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In recent articles, we have focused on the significant impact delays to tests and medical treatment has had on patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Novum Law clients like Sherwin Hall, face an uncertain future due to difficulties accessing urgent diagnostics and the essential cancer treatment they need during this time.

Doctors have also been voicing their significant concerns about patient safety. In a British Medical Association (BMA) survey in April, four in 10 (40%) doctors admitted the long-term impact on clinical demands from patients is their greatest worry.

Over 50%  admitted that the prioritisation of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients was worsening medical care for those with non-COVID conditions.

And in a new BMA survey published this week, over 45% of hospital doctors and just over half of GPs say they are ‘not very or not at all confident’ of their ability to manage a potential second peak of COVID-19.

Urgent Calls To Clear The Backlog

The result is that whatever happens, the NHS is now facing a long, arduous road to recovery as it tries to tackle the substantial delay in diagnostics and treatment paused during COVID-19.

Amid concerns the NHS will not be able to ‘switch on’ NHS services immediately, doctors face testing times as they attempt to clear the build-up of undiagnosed and untreated patients while treating those whose health is significantly worse as a result of the disruption.

The NHS Confederation reports that the NHS waiting list could reach 10 million by the end of the year.

In a letter hand-delivered to Downing Street, patient safety and justice charity AvMA, and a coalition of leading patient safety professionals said:

“We are increasingly concerned about the impact, including avoidable harm and death, which is being caused by the continuing unavailability of urgent diagnostics and treatment for thousands of non-COVID patients.

“The backlog of such cases is now significant and worsening. We implore the central and devolved governments of the UK to take urgent strategic action, including in co-ordination and co-operation with each other, to prevent this becoming a second and perhaps even more serious health catastrophe arising from the pandemic in the UK.”

According to AvMA, many NHS hospitals are still only running at about 60% capacity, with most of the diagnostic resources and thousands of beds commissioned from the private sector and in the new Nightingale Hospitals remaining unused and lying empty.

Expert Legal View

Mary Smith, specialist medical negligence lawyer from our Bristol office and an expert on patient safety issues who is a co-author and signatory of the letter to the Prime Minister and First Ministers, said:

“Even before COVID-19, the NHS was struggling to meet the demand for its services and failing to meet performance targets. There were over four million people on the NHS waiting list for essential services such as A&E, general practice, and oncology prior to the outbreak. Current estimates are these numbers will more than double.

“The pandemic has created a ‘perfect storm’ in which patients have had their tests and treatment deferred. Many have found their condition has deteriorated or their prognosis is much worse as a result, while others have put off accessing the vital services they need. This has unquestionably put patients’ lives at serious risk.

“As the NHS pushes the reset button to restart the wide range of services that were paused when coronavirus struck, it is vital this process is properly managed.

“The key challenge will be making efficient use of all available resources to clear the massive backlog of patients while continuing to treat seriously ill patients who have been affected by the delays as quickly as possible. At the same time, the health service needs to be fully prepared to deal with potential further outbreaks of the virus so that COVID-19 patients continue to receive world-class care, alongside non-COVID-19 patients.

“The NHS has worked tirelessly to care for people affected by this dreadful virus. It will take time to boost capacity and improve care across all settings for non-COVID patients while managing the wider wellbeing of health and social care staff, many of whom are already exhausted from dealing with the pandemic.

“But it will take much longer to build public confidence and trust in the healthcare system if patients continue to suffer avoidable harm and death as the queue for life-saving diagnostics and treatment grows.”

If you or a loved one has suffered due to the disruption to healthcare services including delays to tests and medical treatment during COVID-19, call our legal experts on Freephone 0800 884 0777 or email info@novumlaw.com