AROUND 4.7 million fewer people were referred for routine hospital care between January and August 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report from The Health Foundation.
The report authors say that the drop in demand for routine, consultant-led treatment for procedures such as hip, knee and cataract surgery represents a potential "hidden backlog of unmet care needs". The reduction is due to a number of factors, including GPs being unable to refer patients to suspended services and patients being more reluctant to seek care during the pandemic.
The report concludes that NHS and health policymakers will need to plan for this backlog, alongside ensuring treatment for the 4.2 million people currently waiting for routine elective care, of which 2.3 million (46.4 per cent) have already waited longer than the 18 week standard.
Regions seeing the sharpest decline in the number of people referred for routine elective care during the first 8 months of the year include London (37 per cent reduction compared to 2019), the North West (35 per cent reduction) and the South East (35 per cent reduction).
The Health Foundation’s Senior Policy Fellow Tim Gardner, one of the report authors, said: “While the NHS is rightly focused on the urgent task of fighting COVID-19, there is meanwhile a rising tide of unmet need which will have a significant impact on people’s health if a sustainable solution is not found.
“There is no silver bullet – addressing these issues will take time, money and determination. A range of options should be explored – including making greater use of the independent sector, greater use of remote consultations, and creating dedicated diagnostic hubs and elective care centres. If no action is taken, long waits could become the norm for millions of people.”