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David Knight: How much longer can we ignore packed NHS waiting lists?

Many NHS surgeries have been delayed due to the Covid pandemic (Photo: CGN089/Shutterstock)
Many NHS surgeries have been delayed due to the Covid pandemic (Photo: CGN089/Shutterstock)

It was 4am and I was holding my wife’s hand in bed.

It was bitterly cold outside; I could hear a gale licking around our roof, searching for weak spots under tiles.

I had just stumbled back from our bathroom.

This is often a hazardous journey for me due to blackout blinds on our bedroom windows. It’s disorienting in the pitch black, I sometimes try to get into the wardrobe by mistake.

As I slid back between the sheets, my wife was sobbing quietly – tears of pain. So, I reached out and grasped her small dainty hands in mine.

I felt so useless, but that was all I could offer. It’s so hard standing by and watching loved ones suffer.

We are approaching the second anniversary of her journey towards a new hip, and the pain has become an excruciating, 24-hour a day ordeal. Painkillers don’t work anymore.

Millions of others are suffering just like her, rotting away on neverending NHS waiting lists forced by clearing the decks for Covid cases. Cancer patients’ scans are postponed.

Many have died and millions are waiting

Covid has claimed around 150,000 lives across the UK, but I heard the other day that six million are backed up on non-Covid waiting lists in England alone. The numbers in Scotland will be different, but the crisis is probably just the same.

In time, it’s a scandal which could dwarf Covid; how many will die of old age before they have an operation?

The NHS has been required to deal with many Covid cases, often being forced to prioritise them over other patients (Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire)

But this crisis could stretch out for years to come as the NHS has become a stretcher case itself. Can anyone give us hope?

There is hope locally: orthopaedic surgical staff at Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen have made great strides with their hip work in recent times, aided by advanced robotic procedures.

My wife and I pray our turn in the queue comes soon, before we are forced to do something drastic like borrowing money in desperation in order to go private.

‘Love thy neighbour’ by getting vaccinated

Politicians shrug their shoulders and don’t talk about it much, as though they can’t face up to the grim consequences.

It’s now around the first anniversary of a column of mine calling for vaccination passports or anything similar which forced people to roll up their sleeves. This was at a time when our political leaders were dancing around the issue, fearful of being labelled Big Brother.

But what about the human rights of those on non-Covid NHS waiting lists?

I raged at a hospital television interview with a sheepish-looking unvaccinated Covid patient

These poor souls now have to stand by and watch the unvaccinated clogging up Covid units, pushing their treatment even further back. They don’t want preferential treatment, just fair treatment.

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby joined the chorus in an interview the other day. He said the best way to “love thy neighbour” was to get vaccinated.

Later, I raged at a hospital television interview with a sheepish-looking unvaccinated Covid patient. Apologies to the archbishop: I wasn’t feeling “love thy neighbour” – I felt like wringing her neck.

She mumbled, between gasps into her oxygen mask, about wishing she had been vaccinated. She blamed bad advice on social media for putting her off; sounds depressingly familiar.

Should we just start saving to go private?

Some scientific experts suggest we are already vaccinated to the point where it’s time we get on with our lives and try for some sort of normality without the nonsense of confusing stop-start restrictions.

Controversial National Insurance increases are expected to help pay for easing NHS waiting lists. In some places, orthopaedics have been ring-fenced in special hubs to help them get on with this vital work.

I fear the burden of being years behind with waiting lists will see the threat of NHS privatisation rear its ugly head again

As we enter a new endemic phase after the pandemic, would it not be better if the balance shifted to smaller, special hubs for Covid cases, while mainstream non-Covid surgery is accelerated to priority status?

Fears over slippery underhand NHS privatisation was a running theme at the last general election in 2019. I fear the burden of being years behind with waiting lists will see this threat rear its ugly head again to ease pressure.

There have been fears in the past that the government may privatise the NHS (Photo: Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street)

It makes me wonder if we had better start saving for that new hip ourselves, if we get to a point where my wife can’t hang on any longer, and the wait stretches beyond two years.

I did some checking around: you can have a new hip privately for between £9,000 and £16,000, but maybe these figures are out of date. I’ve a hunch where Aberdeen will be on that scale.

Maybe if we didn’t go on holiday for a few years, stopped eating takeaways and raided our retirement piggy bank; fingers crossed it won’t come to that.

David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of The Press and Journal

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