Hospitals are struggling to catch up on operations which were cancelled last winter, with a record 503,900 patients now waiting for non-urgent surgery such as knee replacements and cataract removal. Yet despite growing waiting lists, according to analysis by the Royal College of Surgeons, there have been 84,504 fewer NHS treatments, including surgical operations, performed by consultants so far this year compared to last year.
Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “It’s no secret that the NHS faced one of its worst winters on record at the start of this year. NHS England’s advice to hospitals to cancel all elective operations in January was a necessary step given the circumstances. This move freed up NHS hospital staff to deal with patients needing emergency treatment, and spared patients who were due to have surgery the trauma of having their operation cancelled on the day.
“However, this poor start to the year has left hospitals with the mammoth task of trying to catch-up on those operations, while waiting lists have continued grow. Patients are being left waiting in pain and distress, with the potential for their conditions to deteriorate.”
How to beat NHS waiting lists
Private medical insurance can provide valuable peace of mind that you’ll be seen without delay if you need medical treatment or surgery. Bear in mind, however, that if you have a pre-existing condition when you take out your policy, this will usually be excluded from your cover.
Premiums can vary widely depending on your age, health, weight, and whether you smoke, so it’s a good idea to seek advice if you’re not sure which policy to is best for you. There are ways to reduce the cost of cover, for example, by selecting a higher excess, which is the portion of any insurance claim which you must pay yourself, or by including a ‘six-week wait’ option. This means that if you must use the NHS if it offers you treatment within six weeks, but if the waiting time is going to be longer than this you will be treated privately.
CASE STUDY: A 40-week wait for knee surgery
Vince Byrne, 67, a guest house proprietor from Bowness-on-Windermere, has been told he could face a wait of more than nine months for knee replacement surgery on the NHS.
He said: “In August this year I was listed for NHS knee replacement but have been informed by my GP’s Surgery that the waiting list is around 40 weeks. I am in a position where this is intolerable and on September 14 I telephoned the BMI Lancaster Hospital to request an appointment with a view to having the operation performed privately.
“A letter arrived the next morning resulting in an appointment for September 18, to see the same consultant surgeon who would have performed the NHS operation. I would certainly have considered health insurance had I had been aware of the NHS waiting period.”