NHS backlog: are we heading for a second health crisis?

Recent weeks have hailed the COVID-19 vaccination programme a huge success and we’ve seen that the vaccine has weakened the link between cases, hospitalisation, and death. Nevertheless, charities and health organisations have warned the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a "catastrophic" impact on NHS services - as the number of people in England waiting to start hospital treatment hits a new record high of more than 5 million.

Screening services for cancer were badly affected at the start of the pandemic, with bowel, breast and cervical screening programmes largely put on hold – Cancer Research UK estimated that around 3 million people were waiting for screening by September 2020. Whilst NHS cancer screening services have worked hard to get back up and running again, the disruption caused by COVID-19 has impacted the number of people getting diagnosed early.

Similarly, the devastating disruption to heart disease care caused by the pandemic could put lives at risk for years to come. Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Associate Medical Director and Consultant Cardiologist, said: "Despite the tireless efforts of NHS staff, the pandemic has caused untold heartbreak, with thousands of extra heart disease and stroke deaths and significant delays to cardiovascular care. No part of the system providing care for people with heart and circulatory diseases has been left undamaged. We face a cardiovascular ticking timebomb for the future that could start to reverse six decades of progress in reducing death rates from heart disease and stroke.”

What does this mean for our health and well-being?
The drop in detection and management of risk factors for cancer, heart and circulatory diseases could have devastating results, with more people needlessly suffering from delayed cancer treatment, heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular events as a result.

1 in 2 people in the UK are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and delaying cancer treatment by just four weeks increases the risk of death by up to 10%, according to research that shows the devastating impact of missed NHS treatment targets due to COVID-19.

People with uncontrolled atrial fibrillation are up to 5 times more likely to have a stroke and delays to treatment of hypertension could increase the risk of a cardiovascular event or death - high blood pressure is associated with 50% of heart attacks and strokes - 470,000 fewer new prescriptions for cardiovascular drugs for conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol were made during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, the NHS is now bracing itself for a rise in presentation of critical illnesses such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

What can be done?
The Government is underway with its plans for recovery, to clear the backlog and to resume non-COVID-19 related NHS services. Their message is clear that if anyone develops symptoms that aren’t coronavirus related, health services are there for those who need them and that we should not ignore symptoms - early diagnosis, treatment and care are critical for maintenance of our health and well-being.

However, experts warn that the backlog could put our health and well-being at risk for years to come. Whilst you can’t know what’s around the corner for your health, you can make sure you’re prepared financially, and critical illness cover could make your life easier if you ever face a serious health problem.

If you’re unable to work due to a serious illness, you might assume that your employer will continue to give you some level of income, or that you’ll be able to rely on benefit payments. However, employees are usually moved onto Statutory Sick Pay within six months and state benefits might not be enough to replace your income if you’re no longer able to work.

Critical illness cover supports you financially if you’re diagnosed with one of the conditions included in the policy, such as certain types and stages of cancer, heart attacks and stroke. The tax-free, one-off payment helps pay for your treatment, mortgage, rent or changes to your home, such as wheelchair access, should you need it.

Furthermore, this type of insurance often comes with added health and wellbeing support services at no additional cost, for example to give you access to a GP or to get a second medical opinion from an expert who can assess your diagnosis and provide recommendations for treatment, or to provide mental health support with 1-2-1 sessions delivered by clinical psychologists - and often your partner, spouse and dependents can take advantage of the added benefits provided by this type of policy too.

Your needs may be different to your friend, your neighbour, or a family member. That’s why there are several different critical illness insurance options. Call us on 0800 612 8005 and we’ll help you find the cover that works for you and your lifestyle and so you get the right policy for your circumstances and needs.