Record numbers of people are now waiting for NHS care. Latest figures from the NHS show that at the end of December, there were over twenty two thousand people on waiting lists in Tameside & Glossop. Over a thousand people had been waiting for more than a year for an appointment.
I’ve heard people say this in inevitable as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, our NHS staff and key workers have worked heroically over the past two years and we owe them a deep debt of gratitude.
Digging a little deeper though, the Government had not left the NHS well prepared. At the outbreak of coronavirus, there were already 4.4 million people on the NHS waiting list in England, then a record high. Nationally, the standard of 92% of people seen within 18 weeks of a referral has not been met since 2016. Now, 1 in every 9 people in England are on the NHS waiting list, and we know that might not even be the full picture, as Covid-19 continues to deter potential patients from coming forward.
The NHS went into the latest wave of Covid infections with the longest waiting list ever, understaffed and overstretched. The Conservative Government published its elective care recovery plan for the NHS last week, but failed to set out how it would address chronic workforce shortages. Their proposal is that they will begin to reduce waiting lists in 2024. This is not good enough.
As Omicron pressures mounted, Tameside General was one of a majority of hospitals across Greater Manchester that had to postpone non-urgent appointments. This is not a decision any NHS organisation wants to take.
Waiting lists are not just statistics, they represent real people in pain or anxiety. My wife Claire is currently waiting for the NHS removal of two dodgy wisdom teeth, and is keeping local chemists in business with endless painkillers, and numbing gels etc in the meantime. Another close relative is waiting for support with hearing, which in the interim impacts on all aspects of their life. These examples are of course at the mildest end of the spectrum. Hundreds of local people are waiting for care for serious conditions, all the while living with fear and worry; not a recipe for wellbeing or productivity. No-one wants to see loved ones in purgatory.
There has been much talk of the pandemic being in it’s final throes and ‘getting back to normal’. My hope is, when it comes to the NHS, the Government recognise they must do better than going back to the state of things before the pandemic began.