HOSPITAL surgical waiting lists in England are now the longest since records began in 2007, according to the latest statistics published by NHS England.
Figures show that 4.95 million people were waiting for planned hospital treatments in March 2021, including hip and knee replacements, post-mastectomy breast reconstructions and ear, nose and throat operations.
Over 400,000 patients have been waiting more than a year for treatment, compared to 3,097 people in England in March 2020 before the first pandemic lockdown.
NHS England has announced a £160 million initiative to tackle waiting lists and develop a blueprint for elective recovery, as early reports show the health service is recovering faster after the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the Royal College of Surgeons of England thinks more ambitious measures are needed and is calling for the Government to agree a ‘New Deal for Surgery’, committing an additional £1bn for surgery every year for the next five years to create ‘surgical hubs’ across the country.
The College is also urging every Integrated Care System (ICS) in England to identify at least one 'surgical hub' where planned surgery can continue safely if the country is hit again by COVID-19, a new variant or a severe seasonal flu/winter pressures.
Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: "We need government support for a ‘New Deal for Surgery’ to reduce the colossal backlog in elective surgery and to help the NHS weather future pandemics. Surgery must be available on the NHS all year-round, not stop and start. If a dangerous new variant of COVID-19 takes hold, or another bad flu arrives in the autumn, we cannot allow surgery to grind to a halt again or waiting lists will become insurmountable.
"The ‘surgical hub’ model is the best way we can keep treating people who need operations, regardless of future pandemics. But it requires being open to doing things differently. Throughout the pandemic, staff have gone wherever they are most needed, working flexibly and collaboratively to put patients’ interests first. Our patients have adapted too, with many outpatient consultations happening virtually, by telephone or video. Now we need politicians to be open to change too. They must accept that the services available at their nearest hospital may not be the same as before. Their voters are willing to travel to a surgical hub for an operation, even if it is not the nearest local hospital. Today we are explaining why it’s key the government and MPs embrace change and commit to longer term investment in surgery."