NHS officials have recently revealed that 1.5 million fewer surgical procedures were carried out in hospitals throughout 2020 in England and Wales. According to the NHS, this was down to fewer people coming forward for treatment due to the impact of Covid-19.
The pandemic disrupted all sorts of surgeries. Included in the NHS figure was a drop of 13% in emergency surgeries, including operations for broken bones, appendicitis, and heart disease. There were also many non-urgent surgical postponements as hospitals tried to battle the impact of the pandemic.
Researchers say the hangover from the last year could result in millions of people being affected for years to come. Delays resulting from lockdowns, hospitals being overwhelmed during the peak of the first and second wave, and the reluctance of people to seek treatment during the pandemic have all taken their toll.
Surgeries postponed twice last year
One of the significant issues to have affected surgeries and caused massive delays is the fact that operations had to be postponed twice last year. They were initially delayed at the start of the pandemic when hospital admissions, infections, and death rates peaked last spring. They were then postponed again last winter when the second wave of the pandemic swept the nation.
In addition to this, many vulnerable people were told to isolate themselves for long periods, so they could not attend hospital for operations and other treatments. Many were also reluctant to seek healthcare or be admitted for operations amid the pandemic. All these factors led to a dramatic drop in operations and a growing backlog for the NHS.
The area where there was the most significant drop in operations was the semi-urgent category, which includes surgeries such as burn-related reconstructions and gall-bladder operations. The number of admissions for knee and hip replacements also fell by close to half a million compared to previous years.
Calls for a major reorganisation of services
The current situation has led to calls for a major reorganisation of services by Tom Dobbs, who is a researcher at Swansea University Medical School. He stated that millions of people would continue to feel the impact of these delays for years.
Mr Dobbs said, "Delays in the diagnosis and surgical management of cancer patients will lead to an increase in deaths, while those waiting for semi-urgent and elective surgery are likely to experience a worsening of their condition."
Another official, Prof Neil Mortensen from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said that the government needed to commit to £1bn in funding for surgeries every year for the next five years to try and get things back on track. He added that more medical staff and hospital beds were crucial in a bid to increase surgeries. Mortensen has also recently called for the setting up of specialist hubs to deal with non-urgent operations.
The NHS says the main reason for surgery figures plummeting was fewer people coming forward for care and treatment. Officials say this is why campaigns were being run last year by the health service, encouraging people to access health services as usual when required.