The number of patients awaiting hospital treatment could rocket to more than 13 million over the coming months due to the impact of Covid-19, Sajid Javid has warned.
The new health secretary said the growing number of people waiting for non-coronavirus treatment on the NHS had been what shocked him most since taking up the job following Matt Hancock’s resignation.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Javid said: ‘What shocked me the most is when I was told the waiting list is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
‘It’s gone up from 3.5 million to 5.3 million as of today, and I said to the officials: “So what do you mean [by] a lot worse”, thinking maybe it goes from 5.3 to six million, seven million. They said no, it’s going to go up by millions… it could go as high as 13 million.’
Mr Javid told the newspaper that internal modelling suggested that as many as seven million people who would have normally been expected to seek treatment ‘kept their problems to themselves’ during the pandemic.
The health secretary pledged to be ‘creative’ in trying to bring the number down, but conceded ‘it will take some considerable time’ to clear the backlog.
It comes as NHS trusts are facing the combined hit of Covid cases rising again, the backlog for other treatments including cancer checks and heart disease, and staff shortages due to workers having to self-isolate if they are ‘pinged’ by the Covid app.
NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS trusts in England, warned that up to a fifth of staff could be absent from one NHS trust in just three weeks from now, potentially leading to the cancellation of as many as 900 operations.
Mr Javid confirmed to The Sunday Telegraph that there was ‘every reason to think that we can take a more proportionate and balanced approach to the isolation policy’ for NHS staff after No 10 suggested they could be exempt from having to stay at home if they had two jabs.
He also discussed NHS pay and that raising taxes to fund social care could be a ‘practical and obvious’ solution.
Earlier, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said deaths were beginning to rise again too.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We’ve only just heard in this bulletin about the rising numbers of cases, the rising numbers of people requiring hospital treatment, in intensive care and sadly deaths are starting to rise again, too.
‘There seems to be a misapprehension that life will return to normal from then (July 19), and that we can throw away all the precautions, and frankly, that would be dangerous.’
The rate of new cases of coronavirus in most areas of England is now back at levels last seen during the winter.
Patient numbers have risen to levels last seen around three months ago.
And there has been a very slight increase in the average number of deaths reported each day of people in England who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.
But this is still far below the sort of numbers seen in January and February of this year.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said in a statement: ‘There is little doubt that things will get worse before they get better.’
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