NHS will take “long time” to clear backlog of patients as UK enters third wave of Covid, says Chris Whitty

·2-min read
Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty (PA Wire)
Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty (PA Wire)

The NHS will take a "long time" to clear the backlog of patients caused by Covid-19 as it tackles a third wave of the virus, Chris Whitty has said.

Speaking at the Local Government Association's annual conference on Tuesday, England’s chief medical officer outlined the major public health challenges facing councils and local NHS trusts before the winter and in the years ahead.

He said the country had to be “honest” and acknowledge the “effects of Covid on health in the broadest sense are going to be felt well after the waves of the pandemic have passed”.

There is “likely to be a significant backlog of people who would have had disease picked up at an earlier stage under ordinary circumstances” and “many people [whose] healthcare was delayed or cancelled as a result of the NHS having to essentially clear space”, he added.

"Of course we're now going into a third wave. The NHS is going to take quite a long time to clear this backlog.

“They have to maintain some capacity for the wave we're about to go into now and very strict infection control processes makes some of the previous working systems rather slower than they previously would have been."

Prof Whitty suggested that councils will bear the brunt of the economic and mental health impact the virus has had for many years to come.

“The effects of lockdown on many individuals, particularly people who had periods of loneliness, people not getting out and doing exercise and mental health impacts, I think again we're some way from the end of the point where the impacts of that will be felt.

“The necessary lockdown measures on economic effects, particularly for people who are in more marginal jobs and in areas of deprivation, are likely to have long-term impacts on them and their families.

“The same is true of the impact that there has been on the education of children.

“We have to be honest and say the effects of Covid on health in the broadest sense are going to be felt well after the waves of the pandemic have passed through and this becomes a more predictable and seasonal disease.”

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

At Downing Street press conference yesterday, Mr Whitty said winter will be “tricky” for the NHS as it faces another wave of Covid-19 and a resurgence of other respiratory viruses.

But both he and Boris Johnson said it was better to lift restrictions now rather than delay until autumn or winter.

Prof Whitty said he is of the view that a summer reopening “has some advantages” over autumn, when schools return, and winter “when the NHS tends to be under greatest pressure”.

However, Mr Johnson stressed that a final decision on full easing of restriction on July 19 would not be taken until next week.

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