The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge. The worst public health emergency for a century has had a profound impact on the NHS. Staff have treated more than half a million COVID-19 patients over the last 18 months in hospital alone – providing outstanding care for those suffering new, complex and sometimes severely debilitating conditions.
The pandemic has illuminated chronic problems in our health and social care system, and made many of them worse. For instance, when COVID-19 broke out, there were thousands of hospital beds filled with people that could have been better cared for elsewhere.
These problems are making it much harder to manage the pressures that have inevitably built up elsewhere in the system as a result of the pandemic. The need to treat COVID-19 patients has contributed to worsening wait times for non-COVID-19 care. Before the pandemic, nine out of ten were waiting fewer than 25 weeks in England, but that has now risen to 44 weeks. The number of NHS patients waiting for tests, surgery and routine treatment in England is at a record high of 5.5 million and could potentially reach 13 million over the next few years. Health services in other parts of the UK have faced similar challenges.