There’s no doubt that the COVID pandemic has put strain on the healthcare industry – an immense amount of stress has been placed on our NHS, and there is an ongoing concern about the immediate and longer-term consequences of this.

Since the onset of the pandemic, it has been paramount to protect the NHS, reducing the burden where possible. Dated 17th March 2020, and titled ‘Urgent next steps on NHS response to COVID-19’, a letter (to all Chief executives of all NHS trusts and foundation trusts, CCG Accountable Officers, GP practices and Primary Care Networks and Providers of community health services, and more) communicated to enact several measures, including the following:

“Assume that you will need to postpone all non-urgent elective operations from 15th April at the latest, for a period of at least three months. However you also have full local discretion to wind down elective activity over the next 30 days as you see best, so as to free up staff for refresher training, beds for COVID patients, and theatres/recovery facilities for adaptation work. Emergency admissions, cancer treatment and other clinically urgent care should continue unaffected. In the interim, providers should continue to use all available capacity for elective operations including the independent sector, before COVID constraints curtail such work. This could free up 12,000-15,000 hospital beds across England”.

Seven months later, wait times have increased and many patients have had operations and treatment postponed or even cancelled. We at Cavendish Online, as well as our insurance partners, are supportive of our NHS – as it works through its backlog of operations and treatments, those who can are deciding to turn to private medical insurance cover or self-funding options.

According to a recent Guardian article, HCA Healthcare have seen “double the number of self-pay procedures in hip surgeries, ophthalmology (cataracts), and abdominal procedures on last year”. The article also explains that the biggest increase in enquiries for Spire Healthcare has come from patients needing orthopaedic, obstetrics/gynaecology and ophthalmology care – and “these are people often suffering from debilitating conditions who might otherwise have to wait many months for treatment".

With this in mind, we further researched current wait times from GP referral to treatment, as well as hearing directly from a medical consultant. Read on to find out more…

Wait times

 According to NHS England, the maximum waiting time for non-urgent, consultant-led treatments is 18 weeks from the day your appointment is booked through the NHS e-Referral Service, or when the hospital or service receives your referral letter. The maximum waiting time for suspected cancer is 2 weeks from the day your appointment is booked through the NHS e-Referral Service, or when the hospital or service receives your referral letter.

Our research analysed current wait times (from GP referral to treatment) for Greater London hospitals, using the Department search function on the NHS websitedata correct as of 26/10/2020 only, and based on averages for 9 out of every 10 patients.

The research focused on 10 departments, including general surgery, cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, neurology, neurosurgery, gastrointestinal and liver services, orthopaedics, gynaecology, dermatology, and geriatric medicine.

1. General surgery

Out of 98 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘general surgery’, waiting times were reported for 75 of them. For the remaining 23, data was not available due to not being reported or because the number of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 8 and 51 weeks, with the average being 38.5. Ashtead Hospital and North Downs Hospital had the shortest wait times, with up to 8 weeks and up to 9 weeks respectively. At the other end of the scale, Hillingdon Hospital and Mount Vernon Hospital had the longest wait times, both with up to 51 weeks.

2. Cardiology

Out of 82 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘cardiology’, waiting times were reported for 65 of them. For the remaining 17, data was not available due to not being reported or because the numbers of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 14 and 42 weeks, with the average being 33.5. Amersham Hospital (up to 14 weeks), Croydon University Hospital (up to 15 weeks) and Purley War Memorial Hospital (up to 15 weeks) had the shortest wait times, whereas 13 hospitals (St Thomas', Guy's Hospital, St George's At St John's Therapy Centre, St George's Hospital, Queen Mary - St George's University, Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Morden Hall Medical Centre, St George's At Nelson Health Centre, St Helier Hospital, Bexley Group Practice, King Harolds Way Surgery, Barnard Medical Practice, Colyers Lane Medical Centre, and Epsom Hospital) had the longest wait times, all with up to 42 weeks.

3. Cardiothoracic surgery

Out of 14 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘cardiothoracic surgery’, waiting times were reported for 8 of them. For the remaining 6, data was not available due to not being reported or because the number of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 14 and 38 weeks, with the average being 30.5. University College Hospital and University College Hospital at Westmoreland Street had the shortest wait times, with up to 14 weeks for each. At the other end of the scale, Royal Brompton Hospital and Harefield Hospital had the longest wait times, both with up to 38 weeks.

4. Neurology

Out of 70 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘neurology’, waiting times were reported for 57 of them. For the remaining 13, data was not available due to not being reported or because the number of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 8 and 42 weeks, with the average being 29. Homerton University Hospital, Sir Ludwig Guttmann Centre, Raynes Park Health Centre, and Kingston Hospital had the shortest wait times, all with up to 8 weeks. At the other end of the scale, Western Eye Hospital, St Mary's Hospital (HQ), Charing Cross Hospital, and Hammersmith Hospital had the longest wait times, all with up to 42 weeks.

5. Neurosurgery

Out of 12 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘neurosurgery’, waiting times were reported for 9 of them. For the remaining 3, data was not available due to not being reported or because the number of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 38 and 48 weeks, with the average being 43.5. National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (Queen Square) had the shortest wait times, with up to 38 weeks. At the other end of the scale, The Royal London Hospital, King George Hospital, Queen's Hospital, and Brentwood Community Hospital – Outpatients had the longest wait times, all with up to 48 weeks.

6. Gastrointestinal and liver services

Out of 103 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘gastrointestinal and liver’, waiting times were reported for 82 of them. For the remaining 21, data was not available due to not being reported or because the number of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 8 and 44 weeks, with the average being 31. Ashtead Hospital had the shortest wait times, with up to 8 weeks. At the other end of the scale, BMI The Runnymede Hospital had the longest wait times, with up to 44 weeks.

7. Orthopaedics

Out of 109 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘orthopaedics’, waiting times were reported for 82 of them. For the remaining 27, data was not available due to not being reported or because the number of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 6 and 52 weeks, with the average being 39. Ashtead Hospital (up to 6 weeks), Gravesham Community Hospital (up to 7 weeks), and BMI The Princess Margaret Hospital (up to 8 weeks) had the shortest wait times. At the other end of the scale, St Margaret's Hospital and Princess Alexandra Hospital had the longest wait times, both with up to a year’s wait (52 weeks).

8. Gynaecology

Out of 122 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘gynaecology’, waiting times were reported for 82 of them. For the remaining 40, data was not available due to not being reported or because the number of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 9 and 50 weeks, with the average being 38.5. West Valley Hospital had the shortest wait times, with up to 9 weeks. At the other end of the scale, Lewisham Healthcare at Waldron Centre, University Hospital Lewisham, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and Downham Health Centre had the longest wait times, all with up to 50 weeks.

9. Dermatology

Out of 106 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘dermatology’, waiting times were reported for 66 of them. For the remaining 40, data was not available due to not being reported or because the number of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 11 and 50 weeks, with the average being 30. Watford General Hospital, St Albans City Hospital and Hemel Hempstead Hospital had the shortest wait times, all with up to 11 weeks. At the other end of the scale, Hillingdon Hospital, Mount Vernon Hospital, and Chorleywood Health Centre had the longest wait times, all with up to 50 weeks.

10. Geriatric medicine

Out of 63 hospitals in the Greater London area offering services related to ‘geriatric medicine’, waiting times were reported for 45 of them. For the remaining 18, data was not available due to not being reported or because the number of patients was too low to report a waiting time.

Based on the hospitals with data, time from GP referral to treatment ranged between 4 and 42 weeks, with the average being 24. Ashford Hospital and St Peter's Hospital had the shortest wait times, both with up to 4 weeks. At the other end of the scale, Hillingdon Hospital and Mount Vernon Hospital had the longest wait times, both with up to 42 weeks.

NHS England figures showed that in June, 1.85 million were waiting longer than 18 weeks for planned hospital surgery, with more than 50,000 waiting more than a year for hospital treatment. Low cancer referral figures also suggested a backlog of undiagnosed cases.

Hearing from a Consultant

Individuals in the UK are spending about £1.7bn a year on treatments and making up about 20% of the revenue of private hospitals. However, company-paid cover accounts for about 75% of the roughly 4 million people who have private medical insurance in the UK.

To get a different perspective, we also spoke to Dr Lorenzo Masci, private sports medicine doctor at Sport Doctor London, about his experience over the last few months:

“I used to work as a contractor in the NHS for about 12 hours per week, as a consultant seeing musculoskeletal problems. My job was to work as a consultant assisting physiotherapists with patients who had chronic musculoskeletal injuries. I was also performing cortisone injections - up to 6 injections per day. When COVID hit in mid-March I was given short notice that my services were no longer required, as the referral base from GPs had stopped, and I formally stopped working in late March.

“My understanding is that injections were stopped in late March and have only just restarted now - about a 6-month hiatus. Wait for tertiary referrals to hospital (NHS hospital for surgery) has now doubled – over 3 months to get an appointment and up to a year for surgery. I’ve seen an uptick in interest for private self-paying injections - since lockdown began, I’ve now seen 5 NHS patients in my private clinic, all of whom would have normally been seen in NHS. These patients were willing to pay for their injections as NHS were no longer performing these injections or the wait was too long, and this morning I’ve received another 3 email queries regarding self-pay injections”.

If you or your loved ones were to experience worrying symptoms, Private Medical Insurance (PMI) can give you some control over the situation. With this form of cover, diagnosis and treatment can be dealt with almost immediately so you can concentrate on getting well sooner.

Private Medical Insurance ensures that the costs for private healthcare for unforeseen medical conditions are met by the insurance company. It is important to note that PMI may only cover non-pre-existing acute conditions. An acute condition is one that has a start date and, potentially, an end date.

Talk to an adviser about the Private Medical Insurance products available: 01392 455589

Disclaimer: Cavendish Online are not liable or responsible for the accuracy of the advice provided by third party experts, nor for the content or operation of any third party websites, webpages, or resources which have been linked to within this article.

Life Insurance Buying Mistakes

Prev article

How does family life insurance work?

It’s not nice at all to think about the risks facing people we love, or...
Next article