Huge reduction in number of seriously ill patients treated during pandemic
Many patients will deteriorate while waiting for treatment, conference hears
The number of patients waiting for day case/inpatient care increased by 111 per cent. Photograph: iStock
Massive reductions occurred in the number of seriously ill patients treated during the pandemic while waiting lists lengthened considerably, data to be presented at a conference on Tuesday shows.
As a result, many patients with serious conditions are in pain and will deteriorate while they wait for treatment, the conference will be told.
Overall, the number of patients discharged fell by about one-fifth last year compared with 2019, with even bigger drops recorded in some specialties. The number of patients waiting for day case/inpatient care more than doubled.
While not blaming the reduction in activity on the pandemic, Ken Mealy, co-lead of the National Clinical Programme for Surgery, said a failure to separate surgery and emergency care from Covid treatment had worsened the negative impact on non-Covid medical activities.
“Some patients have been appropriately cared for in the community, others remain on or have been added to a waiting list,” according to Mr Mealy, who will present the data at a conference on healthcare outcomes.
“There is a clear impact here for serious non-Covid conditions. It’s important that these patients are quickly identified, so they can receive the care they need. Many will be in pain and their conditions will deteriorate while they wait.”
Inside Politics / covid vaccine / April 7th
There was a 38 per cent decrease in breast cancer surgery, and a 26 per cent fall in colorectal cancer surgery, the figures show. Overall cancer discharges fell by 15 per cent.
Emergency surgery was down 26 per cent and emergency colorectal surgery 15 per cent.
Respiratory discharges fell by 21 per cent, and COPD and asthma by 23 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.
Last year, 28 per cent fewer total hip replacements and 36 per cent fewer hernia repairs were carried out while the number of gall bladder surgeries fell 34 per cent.
Across all specialties there was an 18 per cent decrease in total discharges and a 20 per cent decrease in elective stay discharges.
Outpatient waiting lists
Meanwhile, outpatient waiting lists increased by more than 12 per cent, and have continued to rise this year. The number of patients waiting more than nine months increased by 41 per cent last year, and waiting lists for day cases or inpatient care grew by 32 per cent.
The number of patients waiting for day case/inpatient care increased by 111 per cent.
Mr Mealy said “at this point of the pandemic we have more questions than answers about why we have seen this dramatic decrease in discharges and surgical care”.
“The data presents us with an opportunity, however, to understand the factors behind hospital admissions. Perhaps more care can be appropriately provided for in the community. Perhaps better access to senior decision-makers and diagnostics would reduce the need for hospital admissions and give more timely hospital care for those who need it.”
Scheduled healthcare would always be compromised when hospitals were under pressure, he said. While the data showed high-quality patient care had been provided throughout the pandemic, “it is clear our failure to separate scheduled surgical care and emergency care has exacerbated the negative impact on non-Covid medical activities”.