Covid: Patients denied care during pandemic face agonising delays as waiting times hit record levels

Romilly Weeks reports on how the NHS backlog is impacting people's lives - with one person told they will have to wait six years for an appointment

It’s a figure so large that it seems hard to believe. 

If waiting lists in the NHS in England really do reach 13 million, as the Health Secretary himself has suggested, that would mean one in five of us in England would be waiting for treatment.  Waits that, in some cases, are having truly life changing consequences. 

While the NHS was putting heroic efforts into battling Covid, much routine surgery was put on hold; other patients were too scared to see a doctor. 

The result - the longest waiting lists since records began.

We met Phil Williams who has been waiting 20 months for a hip replacement. 

Now struggling to walk,  he’s already lost his job. 

His greatest fear now is that walking will become so difficult that he is no longer able to care for his beloved wife, who is in a wheelchair. 

Phil Williams told ITV News Correspondent Romilly Weeks that the pandemic led to his hip replacement surgery being cancelled twice. Credit: ITV News

The problems are not confined to England, waiting lists are growing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too. 

We also talked to Leesa Harker in Belfast.  

Recovering from cancer she needed to see a specialist for her painful joints. 

Leesa's MRI scan and doctors appointment cost £550. Credit: ITV News

The letter she showed us was brutal, she would have to wait six years for an initial appointment and the letter stressed “this is not expected to change in the near future”.For many we spoke to, the not knowing is the most difficult part. 

Winston Baldwin has been given no date for his surgery. 

That despite his triple hernia, the size of a football, now distorting his entire frame. 

The wait has destroyed his ability to work and enjoy life. 

Winston's hernia has swollen to the size of the football. Credit: ITV News

It’s also not been efficient for the NHS, what would have been a simple operation two years ago when the hernia was small, has become a major one, requiring intensive care back up.So can an exhausted, Covid weary NHS get to grips with the problem? 

In some Trusts they already are making extraordinary efforts to tackle the backlog. 

We visited Croydon University Hospital which has created a “hospital within a hospital” - a ring fenced Covid free zone, which has allowed them to boost surgery rates to 120% of pre pandemic levels. 

Croydon University Hospital in Croydon. Credit: PA

Other trusts are operating in the evenings and at weekends, creating surgical hubs where multi-disciplinary teams come together to radically speed up patients’ treatment.Innovation and greater efficiency are part of the solution, but NHS leaders are clear it’s also going to take more staff and more money. 

The figure NHS Providers are putting on it is £2-3 billion extra a year, just for the backlog.So I asked the new Health Secretary whether that money would be found. 

“Of course we need to make sure the right resources are there for the NHS” he told me and that it should be well understood that the NHS is “absolutely top priority”.

Health Secretary Sajid told ITV News that waiting lists will grow further still. Credit: ITV News

For Phil, Leesa, Winston and all the other millions waiting they really need that to be true. 

Watch Tonight – NHS: The Longest Wait? at 7.30pm on Thursday 26 August on ITV

If you have been affected by any of these issues help and advice can be found with the following charities: