NHS waiting lists are ‘astronomical’; this cannot go on - we must act now

NHS waiting lists are only going to get worse without urgent action.NHS waiting lists are only going to get worse without urgent action.
NHS waiting lists are only going to get worse without urgent action.
NHS waiting lists, says Dr Tom Black, are only going to get worse without urgent action.

We knew the Covid-19 pandemic would have a knock-on effect on our already astronomical waiting list crisis and the current numbers show just how bad the impact is, writes Dr Tom Black.

These numbers will only get worse as more and more patients are continually added to an overwhelmed system - a system that is currently relying on a workforce that is exhausted and burnt-out from the Covid response.

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The last British Medical Association (BMA) tracker survey of our local members, taken in April, found that 76% of respondents said additional staffing in secondary care was key to clearing non-Covid waiting list backlog. Over 39% of respondents said they had worse levels of burnout from the pandemic; 62% said fatigue levels were higher than normal; 43% said wellbeing was worse. Unsurprisingly, 42% now say they are now more likely to take early retirement, with over 55% more likely to work fewer hours, citing workload and personal wellbeing as the main drivers for these decisions.

We will not be able to address our waiting list crisis and deliver Health and Social Care (HSC) transformation when we don’t have enough doctors to treat patients and those that remain are contemplating early retirement due to fatigue or poor wellbeing. HSC staff and patients deserve better.

This cannot go on. We must act now and that includes our elected representatives making decisions that might be unpopular in order to restructure our health service.

We also echo the Health Minister’s call for a multi-year budget to fund transformation and to tackle the workforce gaps and waiting lists.

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The problems with our waiting lists have built up over many years and cannot be fully addressed with piecemeal budgets running from year to year.

Covid proved what HSC can achieve at short notice when faced with a crisis.

Waiting lists and staffing gaps is a crisis, and it must be urgently addressed.

Dr. Tom Black is a GP based in Derry. He is also chairperson of the British Medical Association (NI).