Huge patient care backlog caused by Covid 'could take up to five years to clear'
A "huge" backlog of patient care caused by Covid-19 could take up to five years to clear, NHS Providers has said.
The organisation, which represents every NHS hospital, and mental health, community and ambulance service in England said tackling the problem in the worst affected areas could take three to five years.
According to recent data from NHS England, 4.7 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of February - the highest figure since records began in August 2007.
The number waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment was 387,885 - the highest for any calendar month since December 2007.
In February last year, the number having to wait more than 52 weeks was 1,613.
NHS Providers has called for a "bold transformative approach" with additional funding from the Government to clear the backlog in a reasonable period of time.
Chief executive Chris Hopson said: "Early work by trust leaders shows there is a huge backlog to clear.
"Trust leaders are going as fast as they can in tackling the most urgent cancer, surgery and other cases. They are only too aware of the impact of delays.
"The scale of the backlog ahead is very worrying.
"Some chief executives are adamant we must avoid returning to the situation in the early 2000s, when the NHS had far too many people waiting for years, not months, on waiting lists.
"What's needed now is a team approach - the NHS transforming how it provides care and the Government providing the extra funding required to enable that transformation.
"We need to work together over the next few months to create a joint plan to deliver for patients and service users to be announced in the multi-year spending review we are expecting at the end of the year."
Mr Hopson added the issue is not just about elective and cancer backlogs in acute hospitals, but also patients and service users waiting for mental health and community services.
The organisation said the changes needed include an increase in workforce capacity, investment in a new network of community diagnostic hubs and new ways of treating patients.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "Our NHS has faced significant challenges over the past year and we continue to support our incredible health and care staff who have kept services open this winter for thousands of patients.
"We are backing our NHS with an extra £7 billion for health and care services this year, bringing our total additional Covid-19 investment to £92 billion.
"This includes £1 billion to support NHS recovery by tackling waiting lists and providing up to one million extra checks, scans and additional operations."