The number of people waiting for treatment on the NHS could soar to 10 million this winter if there is a surge in coronavirus cases, a new report has claimed.
A study carried out by The Academy of Medical Sciences, on the government’s request warned that there had been an “increased number of poorly-managed chronic conditions or undiagnosed diseases” because of the pandemic.
It suggested that the disruption to non-coronavirus health services meant there could be a significant backlog over the winter.
“Estimates suggest that the overall waiting list in England could increase from 4.2 million (pre-COVID-19) to approximately 10 million by the end of the year,” the report stated.
It added that a winter wave of coronavirus cases would “hamper” the NHS’s ability to reduce the backlog because facilities would have to be requisitioned to treat COVID patients.
The report also predicted a "reasonable" worst-case scenario of between 24,500 and 251,000 virus-related deaths in hospitals alone, peaking in January and February.
Prof Stephen Holgate, who chaired the report, said: "This is not a prediction - but it is a possibility.
"The modelling suggests that deaths could be higher with a new wave of Covid-19 this winter.
"But the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately."
The health secretary told MPs the current testing technology used in England, which involves sending samples to laboratories, will be sufficient although he hopes a breakthrough will make this process of scaling up easier.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt had pressed Hancock over the preparations for winter given the “sobering” statistic suggesting the number of people every day who have COVID-19 symptoms will increase from 100,000 to 360,000 over winter.
Hunt, Conservative chairman of the Commons health select committee, added: “It’s vital to know which one of them have coronavirus and which have just regular winter flu.”
Hancock said he took the report seriously, adding: “We’re engaged in a massive ramp-up of testing and the contact tracing (Mr Hunt) has long championed.
“The scale of the ramp-up of testing will be big enough to cope with the sorts of figures that are described in the royal college report, that’s even on the current testing technology.
“If there’s a breakthrough so we can get a testing technology that’s even easier to roll out, where it can be done at the bedside, in the community rather than having to be sent to a lab, then we will be able to have an even bigger roll-out.”
Hancock also said the “reasonable best case scenario” would result in having a vaccine “in some point this year”, adding: “I would stress that is the best case scenario.”