The backlog is still growing

Published 31 July 2020

The NHS entered the Covid-19 crisis, with over 4.5 million people on the waiting lists. These people have now waited for a collective 52 million weeks - over a year for 26,000 people.

Demand for NHS services plummeted during Covid-19, so a lot of referrals have been missed - about 2.9 million. While some might be avoidable, others will be getting progressively ill. At some point, some of the 'missing' demand will return.

Edge Health UK analysis shows how this might impact the size of the waiting list over time. Depending on the scenario, there could be between 7 and 10 million people on the waiting list by next April (see chart).

This is not good, and it is worse due to (i) the size of the waiting list pre-Covid-19, and (ii) the reduction in productivity due to infection control. The backlog will continue growing!


The solution needs to focus on:

  • Increasing capacity. Larger services, open for longer periods, with higher productivity (ideally enabled by better use of technology like SpaceFinder)

  • Reducing demand. In the short run, activity needs to be prioritised, but in the long term, more needs to be done to reduce the scale of demand.

If not, then the system will effectively be rationing access to healthcare.

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