Backlog at England’s Hospitals Will Last Years, Javid Warns

England has a huge backlog of elective medical procedures, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, that will take years to clear, Sajid Javid, Britain’s health secretary, told lawmakers on Tuesday as he announced a plan to address the problem.

When coronavirus cases surged in England during the pandemic, hospitals in the National Health Service gave priority to patients who were critically ill with Covid-19, and suspended nonemergency procedures. Many health workers caught the virus themselves, depleting staff. Months of strain on the health service sent the backlog to crisis levels.

Mr. Javid warned that the backlog would continue to grow, probably until March 2024, before efforts to address it could turn the tide.

Government figures showed that before the pandemic began, there were about 1,600 people in England who had been waiting more than a year for “planned care,” meaning nonemergency and elective procedures. Now, the figure is over 300,000.

Though the procedures are classified as nonemergency, they often are vital, and include operations like organ transplants, tumor removals and critical heart surgery.

All told, some six million people in England are waiting for planned medical procedures, up from 4.4 million before the pandemic, Mr. Javid told Parliament on Tuesday. Many more are likely to join the queue because they did not see their doctors during the pandemic and missed out on preventive care and regular screenings, Mr. Javid said.

The plan to address the backlog calls for more spending on recruiting and training health workers, on diagnostic testing and on efforts to make sure that the most time-sensitive procedures get priority.

“Sadly, as a result of focusing on urgent care, the N.H.S. couldn’t deal with nonurgent care as much as anyone would have liked,” Mr. Javid told lawmakers.

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