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Brits waiting for NHS operations sought private care amid Covid second wave

Desperate Brits waiting for emergency treatment sought help from pricey private healthcare as Covid’s second wave began to move across swept the country.

Almost 100,000 NHS patients waiting for urgent joint replacement surgery saw their operations cancelled by August 2020, official figures show.

People of a range of ages were left struggling with daily activities as they experienced severe pain and limited mobility and have opted to empty their savings or take out loans to pay for swift private operations.

Analysis of Google searches found the hunt for “private surgery treatment” peaked in September 2020.

At this time, nearly 140,000 patients in England alone had been waiting for more than a year for their surgeries—100 times the number in 2019.



Debbie Plaskett’s emergency knee replacement surgery was cancelled just before the first Covid lockdown




Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth told the Mirror: “The numbers searching for private health care should be a warning light that without action to rebuild the NHS we’re heading for a two-tier system, eroding the universal, free at the point of need health service we all rely on.”

NHS England has told hospitals to eliminate all waits of more than two years by March 2022.

Hip and knee replacements are in the category worst affected by delays, often now considered serious or life-altering enough to be front of the queue.

Ruth, 32, from Norfolk has been waiting for hip surgery since the pandemic hit. She tore cartilage in her hip in February 2019 and scans at the time showed a deformity called a pincer impingement as well as a cyst.

Ever since her thigh bone wobbles in the socket of her hip, causing agonising pain and damage that could lead to osteoarthritis if not treated quickly.

“Right now I’m surviving, it’s not really living to be honest. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed and need high doses of opioid medication to relieve the pain, which can feel like the inside of my hip is on fire or being jabbed with a knife,” she told the Mirror.

“Sadly, things have dragged on for so long that I’ve decided to pay for the operation myself. I’m livid, £7100 is such an extortionate amount of money and will put me in debt for a long time.

“My partner set up a Go Fund Me page to raise part of the funds, and the rest I’ve had to borrow from friends and family. But that’s not everything – I’ve already spent £3685 on stop-gap medical procedures to help with the pain.”



Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has urged the Tories to rebuild the NHS to avoid even more cancellations and heavier backlogs
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Image:

Tim Merry)




Semi-retired Debbie Plaskett, 60, took out a loan to pay for private knee surgery.

She was referred for surgery in November 2019, for partial replacements on both knees, and the first operation was due to be carried out on 30th March 2020 at a BMI hospital, funded by the NHS as part of an arrangement designed to reduce waiting times.

The operation was cancelled a week before, when the first lockdown was announced.

Debbie told the Mirror: “I was disappointed to be told it would be treated as a new referral, meaning I had to go to the bottom of the list for NHS funded treatment, and it would be up to 2 years’ wait, possibly longer.

“Considering that I was referred for both knees to be done in Nov 2019, that could mean 3-4 years in total for my treatment to be completed.”

Michaela Anaka, 54 from Southeast London lives with osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

For years Michaela was told to lose weight and keep active to help ease the pain of arthritis, and in 2019 she was told she’d need a knee replacement.

However Michaela could not be added to the waiting list because of her weight, which she’d gained mainly due to drinking alcohol to manage her pain.



Michaela Anaka, from Southeast London lost weight in a bid to retain her place on the NHS waiting list for knee surgery
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Image:

Michaela Anaka)






Michaela Anaka lives with osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis, and still wasn’t offered surgery after weight loss, so forked out for private surgery
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Image:

Michaela Anaka)




By 2020 things had got to a desperate state for Michaela, and with NHS waiting lists spiralling during the pandemic, she decided to pay for surgery in 2021.

“I was in so much pain that even moving the bed covers back was painful. I couldn’t kneel down, do housework, or get in the shower, and my husband needed to help me do everyday tasks. Things had to change.”

And Gillian, 71 from south London was told she was in the final stages of osteoarthritis and would need another full hip replacement weeks before the pandemic hit.

Two years on and still waiting for surgery, she is left in considerable pain. “I can barely get out to see my friends at the Merton Age UK community centre. Even when heading out to a nearby shop, I have to constantly stop to rest on walls, bus stops, anything I can sit on really.” She takes two painkillers three times a day but says the efficacy is hit and miss.

She has been given a date of Dec 4th for her operation, but worries, if cancelled, she will not get much human contact as she lives alone with her cat. Gillian would love to have gone private in 2019, but as she is eligible for PIP and Pension Credit, this was never an option.

The demand to find private surgery clinics increased again between March and September this year, including the search for hip replacement procedures and cataract surgery.

Experts have stressed that joint surgeries are 50% less likely to be successful if surgery is delayed by more than 6 months.

NHS Providers have said that workforce shortages are “the health service’s biggest problem” and have created such large backlogs.



Almost 100,000 NHS patients waiting for joint replacement surgery saw their operations cancelled by August 2020
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Image:

Bloomberg via Getty Images)




Speaking after the Autumn Budget, Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “NHS trust leaders will welcome the confirmed extra £5.9 billion capital spending on NHS buildings, equipment and digital technology over the next three years.

“Trust leaders will be disappointed and frustrated that there is no confirmed, multi-year increase in Health Education England’s NHS education and training budget.

“Workforce shortages and the resulting unsustainable workload for existing NHS staff are currently the health service’s biggest problem.

“They can only be tackled with a robust long-term workforce plan and increased longer-term investment in workforce expansion, education and training, none of which are currently in place.”



Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been slammed for not providing enough funds for the NHS to increase its workforce to tackle the backlog, in his Autumn Budget
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Image:

Getty Images)




And in an urgent question in the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper warned England “could face an epidemic of empty wards” without a serious plan to recruit NHS staff.

Funding announced for NHS facilities and tests in the Autumn Budget could be “wasted” unless staff retention and recruitment improves, MPs have warned.

The Government has announced an additional £5.9 billion package of funding to help tackle NHS backlogs across England, with the capital spending aiming to deliver around 30% more elective activity by 2024-25 compared to pre-pandemic levels.


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