Millions of appointments and admissions were postponed or cancelled during the peak of the coronavirus crisis and doctors have called for a ‘credible plan’ and extra investment to tackle the back log to ensure patient safety.

A new report from the British Medical Association found that as the NHS reopens non-Covid services, patients will face long waits for treatment because the NHS was already in crisis before the pandemic hit.

Figures compiled for the association’s report, The hidden impact of COVID-19 on patient care in the NHS in England, estimates that there were up to 1.5 million fewer elective admissions than would usually be expected during those three months – and up to 2.6 million fewer outpatient attendances. During the same period, as many as 25,900 fewer patients started their first cancer treatments following a decision it was needed.

The extent of the backlog has been revealed as the BMA’s latest survey to track the effect of COVID-19 raises serious concerns about the ability of the NHS to reach full capacity soon as the fight against the virus continues.

The report highlighted that one in five (19%) doctors don’t expect GP consultations to reach full capacity until between three and 12 months’ time if there are no further spikes in Covid-19 cases. One in ten respondents expect it will take longer than a year for full capacity to return to outpatient departments – or that it may never be reached again. Most respondents (56% said emergency care had either already returned to capacity or would do so within three months.

A rescue package that will get the NHS back on its feet 

The main brakes on capacity were named as social distancing demands, the impossibility of separating Covid and non-Covid patient flows, and a lack of necessary investment.

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said the NHS, doctors and patients needed a clear and concrete commitment from Government to identify the full extent of the backlog and introduce measures and investment to tackle it.

He added: "After months of exhausting themselves under huge pressure and having risked or lost their own lives, many now face a huge battle to deal with the hidden costs of this unprecedented strain on NHS resources. Ministers should take the opportunity to re-think the resource levels of our health service.

"We’ve warned for years that the NHS lacked the finances and workforce to operate – without a major epidemic or its aftermath to deal with. Now is the time for a rescue package that will get the NHS back on its feet and put it on a firm footing for the future, one in which staff are properly supported and services are fully funded."

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