NHS Staff acknowledge the fans as they take part in a lap of honor during the Premier League match between Watford and Aston Villa at Vicarage Road on August 14, 2021 in Watford, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
THERE was a 22 times increase this year in the number of people waiting more than three months for NHS tests when compared to 2019 mainly due to the backlog created by the pandemic, The Guardian reported.
Almost 124,000 patients are waiting more than three months for NHS tests including MRIs, colonoscopies, and heart scans in England with overall waiting lists doubling in some parts, the report added.
It is a slight fall from the May 2021 figure, which stood at just over 127,000. The figure was just 5,675 in 2019.
People referred to hospitals for tests are supposed to be treated within six weeks, according to NHS England’s constitution.
But more than 306,000 people were waiting more than six weeks for a range of diagnostic tests.
This is 7.6 times the equivalent figure in the same month in 2019, but lower than in June 2020 when 539,433 people were waiting six weeks or more, The Guardian report added.
The overall waiting list for tests in June this year was 1.4 million patients, an increase of 28 per cent compared with June 2019.
“GPs do not refer patients for diagnostic testing unless absolutely necessary in order to make a formal diagnosis. So, when we put this into perspective, such a drastic estimated increase in the diagnostic waiting list represents a healthcare crisis. Behind these figures are patients who are left waiting far too long for a diagnosis and therefore treatment,” Dr Richard Vautrey, the chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, told The Guardian.
“Evidence tells us that for conditions such as cancers, early diagnosis and subsequent treatment can have a significant impact on a patient’s chance of survival.”
Dr Vautrey added that the government should urgently develop a credible strategy to tackle waiting lists, ensuring that there are adequate facilities for patients to be referred into.
According to the report, there were just over 2,800 patients in June 2019 waiting for tests at Wye Valley NHS trust. The number for June 2021 was 7,160.
The number at Stockport NHS foundation trust was increased from 4,260 patients on waiting lists in 2019 to 10,467 in 2020.
A spokesperson for Wye Valley NHS trust said it had put measures in place – including the recent addition of extra scanners on the hospital site – to increase diagnostic capacity and reduce the number of patients waiting for investigations.
A Greater Manchester health and social care partnership said Stockport and other trusts had a range of measures in place to see patients waiting for a diagnostic test as quickly as possible, including clinically prioritising urgent cases and running weekend clinics.
More than half of all patients waiting more than six weeks across England require one of three tests: non-pregnancy-related ultrasounds, “echo” scans – used to detect potential heart failure and congenital heart disease – or MRIs.
Rachel Power, the chief executive of the Patients Association, said it was clear that the pandemic had “disrupted every aspect of the delivery of healthcare”.
“To reduce waiting lists the NHS needs to deliver care at a faster rate than patients are presenting with new need or needs they’ve been keeping to themselves throughout successive lockdowns. To be able to do that it needs strong leadership and more resources – human and financial,” she told the newspaper.
A spokesperson for NHS England has said that treating more than 400,000 seriously ill Covid patients had inevitably had an impact on other parts of the health service.
“Latest figures also show that average waiting time for a diagnostic test has fallen to less than three weeks, and the number of patients waiting six weeks or more has dropped by more than a third since this time last year,” the spokesperson said.