The Covid pandemic sparked the waiting list surge - but is it all to blame?

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan met some of the patients left on waiting lists

There can be few things worse than waiting to have hospital treatment. Surgery perhaps that might change your life or take your pain away.

For more than five million people now that is the reality for them and as more and more patients get added to the list every month, 171,720 this month, the hope of ever getting treatment dwindles further.

Long waits for treatment had been a thing of the past. Last year, just around 3,000 patients had to wait more than year that is now the norm for hundreds of thousands - 385,490 to be precise.

The pandemic has led to the sudden rise in waits, mainly because routine treatment was cancelled during the first wave, but is it all to blame? 

The answer to that depends on who you speak to. NHS England insists Covid put so much pressure on the health service it had no choice to postpone elective surgery and in some very rare cases urgent care, too.

They have done everything they can to get it back up and running as before but the sheer volume of patients in the backlog means it’s taking a long time.

There are others who are less sympathetic and argue more could have been done and more still could be done.

Erin Escott has been waiting just under two years for gall stone removal surgery. She describes the frequent pain attacks and says she feels like she has missed out on the experiences of being a mother

The Royal College of Surgeons is calling for large specialist hubs to be set up around the country to tackle what they call colossal backlogs. They want a network of hospitals to focus on routine surgery and nothing else, without it they say it will take years to get through the number of patients waiting.

The Society for Acute Medicine is pretty damning in its assessment, too, blaming the government’s lack of preparedness for this. It points out dire waits in A&E and problems with bed occupancy even before the pandemic meant we went into the crisis, already in crisis.

There is, of course, some good news among the bad. Referrals for cancer from GPs to specialists are back up, more than double what they were in April last year and even more than in April 2019.

Winston Baldwin, who has been waiting more than two years to have his triple hernia removed, says life is a 'fraction of what it used to be' due to the pain

That is a relief and will hopefully mean patients are coming in for diagnosis at a later stage than they normally would.

Breast cancer referrals are also up significantly from 3,866 in April last year to 14,259 this year - again, a relief but a real eye opener into how few people were seeking treatment last year and could mean a large rise in long term cancer care if not deaths. 

Whatever the reasons, whatever the problems those waiting on lists just want to hear about solutions.

There are a number of specialist surgery hubs being built and used but without more we could be talking about this for years to come. And I really do mean years.