Millions waiting for tests as NHS backlog builds

Labour calls for plan to help skyrocketing number of patients waiting for life-saving tests

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The coronavirus pandemic has created a massive backlog in NHS care, including in life-saving screenings and diagnostic tests.

An analysis from the Labour Party out today (June 24) has found that the number of patients waiting longer than six weeks for certain tests or procedures has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

Shockingly, the number of people waiting for an MRI increased from 5,733 patients to 78,932, an increase of 1,277 per cent since February 2020.

The number of people waiting longer than six weeks for a colonoscopy, for example, which is used to detect bowel cancer, has soared by 520 per cent, from 5,234 patients to 32,430.

Those waiting for a flexible sigmoidoscopy, also used to detect bowel cancer, has increased by 722 per cent, from 1,820 to 14,957 patients. Meanwhile, the number or patients waiting for a cystoscopy, used to detect bladder cancer, has increased by 545 per cent from 1,270 to 8,190 people.

The latest figures on people waiting for such vital tests comes ahead of Opposition Day debate later this afternoon (June 24) where Labour plans to force a vote over implementing a plan to deal with the astonishing backlog of NHS care.

The party is also calling for NHS and social care staff to be tested for coronavirus once a week so that NHS services can be safely resumed.

At the moment, only health and care workers who have symptoms of coronavirus are tested, despite a study by Barts Health NHS Trust in March showing that 7 per cent of asymptomatic health care workers tested positive for the virus.

Separate research from University College London Hospitals found that about 20 per cent of infections of hospital patients and 90 per cent of infections of health care workers may have been caught in hospital.

Commenting ahead of today’s Opposition Day debate, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said action must be taken to bring waiting lists for non-coronavirus related care down.

“Ministers tell us the NHS has ‘coped’ through the Covid-19 peak but that was on the back of cancelled operations, delayed scans and diagnostic tests,” he said. “Estimates suggest two million people are waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatment and that 1600 cases of cancer are currently left undiagnosed every month.

 “It’s now urgent ministers bring forward a plan to tackle the backlog in non Covid-19 care. A vital component would be the introduction of weekly routine testing of all NHS staff to keep them and patients safe from Covid-19 while receiving treatment,” he added. “We’re calling on MPs to support this motion to tackle the rapidly growing queues of their constituents waiting for treatment.”

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said staff working in pathology would be instrumental in tackling the building backlog of care.

“Unite as the leading union for healthcare scientists strongly believes that staff in NHS laboratories have a critical role to play in reducing waiting lists for vital diagnostic tests. After all, 70 per cent of all diagnoses are carried out by pathology labs,” he said.

“Preliminary results from a survey of our biomedical science members in pathology found that 50 per cent believed NHS lab capacity could be better utilised during the pandemic, with a further two-thirds saying they felt the labs were not working at full capacity,” Jarrett-Thorpe added.

“Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, our members have said they want to do more in helping with the national effort to tackle the virus. Now, they are saying they stand ready, willing and able to get to work in bringing these waiting lists down. But this will take a coordinated approach with leadership and direction to bring our labs to full capacity.”

Jarrett-Thorpe went on to say that the union is calling for an end to privatisation of NHS laboratories.

“Long before the pandemic, privatisation has damaged and fractured pathology services. Just this month we find that two south London NHS trusts will have to buy outsourcing firm Serco out of multi-million pound contract to run pathology services after their joint-venture with the firm failed to win a new contract. Then we have the spectre of HSL, another private pathology firm taking over pathology services in south east London.  

“In all cases we’ve seen poorer results and a less responsive service for patients when labs are privatised,” he noted. “If we really want to get to grips with the backlog in diagnostic tests, not just now but in the years to come, then we have to put an end to the profit motive in pathology and the NHS as a whole.”

Hajera Blagg

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