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It has been reported by BBC news that approximately 4.7million people were waiting for routine operations in England in February. 388,000 people were waiting more than a year for non-urgent surgery. This is a staggering amount when there were just 1,600 waiting more than a year for non-urgent surgery before the pandemic began.

In Wales, over 115,000 patients have been waiting more than a year for an operation. The number of patients waiting over 36 weeks was 200,000 higher than the same month in 2019.  

Understandably, the pandemic has put a lot of pressure on the NHS. There was a need for all non-essential procedures to be cancelled to free up NHS resources to care for and treat coronavirus patients. This has led, in some instances, to unavoidable delays to operations. For patients waiting for those operations, it will be a frustrating and upsetting time with many experiencing ongoing pain and discomfort.

NHS England has created a £8.1billion plan to speed up the delivery of operations and non-urgent services in order to help recover services to patients. There is some evidence that those patients waiting for operations should have some confidence that the NHS will be able to get operation waiting times back under control, but it will take some time.

Following the first wave of the pandemic, the average waiting time for non-urgent surgery dropped by almost 40% when services resumed in the summer. The NHS is beginning to increase the number of non-urgent operations it does.


Should All Operations Have Been Delayed?

At the start of the pandemic, a guide was produced at the request of the NHS which gave a clinical guide to surgical prioritisation during the pandemic. This set out the timescale that certain operations should be completed in. It covers a wide range of fields of medicine.

Examples of the indicated timeframes for orthopedic surgery are:

  • Patients with open fractures, dislocated joints, compartment syndrome and cauda equina syndrome should have an operation in under less than 24 hours.
  • Patients with arthroplasty, where a delay would impact the outcome, should have an operation within one month.
  • Patients who require tendon reconstruction or severe frozen shoulder not responding to conservative treatment should respond within three months.
  • Patients requiring metalwork removal and adult spinal deformity surgery should have operations performed in excess of three months.

All emergency surgery should have continued as normal.


What Avoidable Harm Can Be Caused to Patients if an Operation is Delayed?

An example

A patient who had rotator cuff surgery delayed for a period of 9 months from when they first attended fracture clinic required shoulder replacement surgery, which would not have been required with timely treatment. This resulted in reduced function and pain of their dominant arm.

The consequence of this was an impact on their ability to carry out their normal work duties and day-to-day activities such as cooking and DIY. Future surgery was required in 15 years’ time.

If the patient had surgery within three to six months, the rotator cuff tear would have been repairable. By six months following the surgery, they would have had full movement of the shoulder and minimal pain. The patient would have had full strength by 12 months from the operation.

Read more: Can You Seek Compensation If Your Operation Is Cancelled Due to Covid?


Let Howells Help You Get The Compensation You Deserve

If harm has been caused which would have been avoided, you may be entitled to compensation - depending on the operation that you required and whether it was an urgent or non-urgent surgery. If you consider a delay in your operation may has caused you additional harm, please get in touch with our experienced medical negligence legal team to find out more about whether you have a case.



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