Covid-19 continues to have a severe effect on planned surgery in the UK, and dealing with the resulting backlog is a critical concern for the NHS. Roughly 2.3 million people are currently waiting for surgical care.

Though the number of surgical patients treated within the 18 week NHS standard is improving the percentage of patients having cancer surgery within one month of the decision to treat dropped from 92% to 88% over the same period.

Predictive modelling suggests that around 28 million operations were cancelled or postponed globally during the peak 12 weeks of the first wave; this number will surely increase as the pandemic progresses. The ability to clear the resulting backlog will depend on the resources available in different countries, and will be a serious challenge for many. In the US, one study estimated that a backlog of at least one million orthopaedic surgical cases would remain two years after elective surgery stopped being deferred because of covid-19.

Additional resources and greater capacity will not be enough to clear the backlog. Profound changes to the way we work will be also be required, along with reform to create a leaner, more cost effective, and more flexible NHS able to make nimble decisions in response to crises such as covid-19.

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