According to data from the Reform think tank, waiting lists for NHS treatment in England could hit ten million by April. Officials have said NHS waiting lists could more than double over the coming weeks. New referrals are expected to add to the existing pressures on the health service and creating ever-growing waiting lists.
The problem is due to a backlog of referrals, which have had to be put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the second wave of the pandemic gripped the nation, restrictions and lockdowns have resulted in fewer visits to GPs and far fewer referrals being made by doctors across the country.
A new wave of GP referrals
With the vaccination rollout now in full swing and many older and vulnerable people having had their first doses, the number of referrals being made by GPs over the coming weeks could soar.
Figures show that last year there were six million fewer referrals made by GPs in 2020 compared to the year before. As such, Reform believes there is a massive backlog of referrals that will all come in around the same time. This may lead to the NHS waiting list doubling, and people could find themselves waiting far longer for their treatments and procedures.
Not helpful to ‘trumpet worse case scenarios’
The predictions from the think tank come as bleak news for those who require referrals and hospital treatment. However, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said that ‘trumpeting worse case scenarios’ did not help anyone.
He also highlighted similar predictions had been made in December last year, with some saying they would hit ten million by that time. However, he said this did not happen, and that the waiting list was currently at 4.4 million.
Hopson also said the NHS is likely to be bogged down due to Covid for another six weeks and that it could be some time before England can significantly ease restrictions. He has written to the Prime Minister to express his concern over case numbers and say that it is far too early to consider lifting restrictions.
In the meantime, officials from Reform have said that while frontline employees are doing a great job during the difficult time, the issue with the referral backlog needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency.