U.K. Hits Record: Seven Million Citizens on Waitlist for ‘Routine’ Health Care Under State-Run System

More than seven million citizens in the United Kingdom are on a waitlist for routine care procedures, a new record, under the country’s state-run health care system. According to data, of the seven million people still waitlisted at the end of August, 387,257 had been waiting over a year to start health care treatments, according to a report by Sky News. 

The increase in August to seven million is up from the 6.8 million seen in July, which held the previous highest record in the U.K. since statistics started being recorded in 2007. Stephen Powis, national medical director for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), argued that the organization is doing “incredible” work under challenging circumstances. 

“This was despite continued pressure from Covid patients in hospital, which has now risen to more than double the numbers seen in August, and more of the most serious ambulance callouts than before the pandemic,” Powis added. The strain on the health care system comes amid the country’s struggling economy and ongoing energy crisis.

BBC analysis shows hospitals struggle to get back to full strength

 A recent BBC analysis shows the growing waitlist is being driven by the inability of medical facilities to get back to full strength in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hospitals are conducting 12% fewer treatments and operations than before the pandemic.

“It’s tough on patients and tough on staff who want to get on and treat patients,” Tim Mitchell, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said. “Without treatment, the health of patients can deteriorate. Not only do we need to get back to where we were before the pandemic, we need to do more if we are going to tackle the backlog.”

The struggle to return services to full operating strength continues to stymy a reduction in the waitlisted procedures. The number of new treatment referrals has not exceeded the average before the pandemic, surprising many in the health service. It was expected that there would be excess demand due to the low numbers of patients coming forward when Covid first emerged. 

According to Mitchell, there is likely continuing hidden demand with people struggling to make it on the waiting list because of pressure on general practitioners’ services, combined with people still staying away from medical facilities.

Government ministers have warned it may be the spring of 2024 before the backlog begins to fall in England. There is “still a long way to go,” according to Saffron Cordery of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals across the country. “Trusts are working incredibly hard to recover ground lost in tackling care backlogs.”

An NHS England spokeswoman said the organization was “making significant progress,” making inroads on the number of people waiting for up to 18 months and virtually eliminating two-year waits. The spokeswoman added, “There is now considerable investment in surgical hubs and diagnostic centers that will help to protect elective treatments from wider pressures, especially in future years, and increasing use of technology like robotic surgery and dedicated day case units, which help increase the amount of elective procedures that can be carried out.”