Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHS faces staff and hospital equipment shortages alongside the growing need to reduce the backlog in patient surgeries and treatments.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the number of people on NHS waiting lists totalled at  4.4 million. As of May 2021 this stood at 5.3 million, having increased by a fifth and by September, 5.8 million patients were waiting for hospital treatment. This is mainly due to the drastic increase in people waiting for longer than a year for treatment, contributing to the NHS backlog which is anticipated to rise much further.

UK Secretary of State For Health and Social Care Sajid Javid has warned that the number of people on the waiting list could grow to 12 million while the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that this could hit anywhere between seven million and 12 million by early 2025.

The NHS now faces the daunting task of operating on all patients awaiting surgery and operations and reducing long waits for care. The NAO added that this arduous task will be hindered by the NHS having fewer beds, doctors and other staff. The total number of people waiting for a new hip or knee, cataract removal, cancer care or other procedure by December 2024 will only continue to increase. This is made worse by the growing threat of the Omicron variant which will lead to further cancellations of NHS surgery and appointments.

Ruth Thorlby assistant director of policy at The Health Foundation said: “The NAO’s report has delivered a cold dose of reality about the scale of the challenge facing the NHS in the years ahead.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS confederation, added: “The backlog is a colossal challenge for an NHS that is already very busy dealing with an unprecedented demand for care.”