NHS Waiting List Could Hit 13 Million Due to Coronavirus Backlog

A government sign advising people to "Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives" is displayed on the advertising boards in Piccadilly Circus in the spring sunshine on the bank holiday Monday in London on April 13, 2020, as life in Britain continues over the Easter weekend, during the nationwide lockdown …
GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

The health secretary has admitted that National Health Service (NHS) waiting lists could rise to 13 million in the next few months due to lockdowns and the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

The revelation comes just days after it was revealed that NHS England waiting lists had reached a record high for the second month in a row, with 5.3 million people waiting for treatment.

In an interview with The Telegraph, the newly-appointed health secretary, Sajid Javid, admitted his department had estimated that in the next few months, that figure could more than double. Just last week, the health secretary claimed that around seven million people normally expected to have sought treatment for health problems, including possible cancer and heart disease and mental health issues, did not do so during the pandemic.

Mr Javid told the newspaper: “What shocked me the most is when I was told that the waiting list is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. It’s gone up from 3.5 million to 5.3 million as of today, and I said to the officials: ‘so what do you mean [by] a lot worse’, thinking maybe it goes from 5.3 to six million, seven million.

“They said no, it’s going to go up by millions… it could go as high as 13 million.

“Hearing that figure of 13 million, it has absolutely totally focused my mind, and it’s going to be one of my top priorities to deal with because we can’t have that.”

Mr Javid put the shocking rise to the “very British” attitude of people “caring” about the NHS and of Britons having “kept their problems to themselves”, not wanting to burden the nationalised healthcare service with their medical concerns during the height of the pandemic.

However, in the past year, health professionals had suggested that it was the government message at the time to “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” that discouraged patients, including healthcare analysis firm Dr Foster which estimated in October that the government’s chief mantra could have contributed to a 90 per cent drop in non-coronavirus-related admissions, including for cancer.

The following month, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the doubling in the number of stillbirths might have been a result of women who had concerns about their pregnancies but “delayed seeking care”.

“This may have been due to confusion around whether these appointments are essential, fear of attending a hospital or not wanting to burden the NHS,” Dr Edward Morris said.

A February report from Cancer Research UK and Cardiff University found that during the first lockdown, almost half of people who have a symptom of suspected cancer did not go to the doctor, with the study’s researchers writing that people had “put their health concerns on hold to protect the NHS”.

One particularly hard-hitting video that may have worked all too well to keep Britons out of medical facilities was the January government advertising campaign showing seriously ill people in hospital suffering from coronavirus.

With a melancholic, slow piano piece playing in the background as the footage rolled, a voiceover said: “Look them in the eyes and tell them you’re doing all you can to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The ad ended with the screen turning to the slogan: “STAY HOME. PROTECT THE NHS. SAVE LIVES.”

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