More than four million patients on NHS hospital waiting lists will be reassessed under a national review launched amid fears that health chiefs have prioritised coronavirus cases over the needs of all others – including advanced cancer cases.
NHS trusts will decide which cases should be seen within a month, two months, or left to anguish on their own at least three months, according to plans drawn up following warnings that too many patients have been left 'in limbo' after their treatment was put on hold.
While the programme is meant to speed up treatment for those in most dire need, millions assigned the lowest priority can expect to wait months, and in some cases years.
Patients will also be given the option to say they want to defer treatment for up to six months if they do not want to go to hospital during the coronavirus crisis – as officials had instructed until very recently.
The guidance states that the risk of delaying treatment should be weighed against the patient's health risks should they contract Covid-19, the need to self-isolate before surgey, and their reduced immunity afterwards, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Hospital staff are also being warned that patients, many of whom have already suffered long delays due to lockdowns, 'may become distressed or angry' when contacted.
It comes as MPs warned that failure to tackle a rising backlog could see tens of thousands of avoidable deaths this year, including up to 35,000 extra cancer deaths.
More than four million patients on NHS hospital waiting lists will be reassessed under a national review launched amid fears that health chiefs have prioritised coronavirus cases over the needs of all others – including advanced cancer cases (stock)
The Commons health committee heard that too many patients whose care had been delayed had been left 'in the lurch' without contact from hospitals – as a direct result of official policy to prioritise care for coronavirus patients.
Since the national lockdown imposed in March, the number of people forced to wait over a year for treatment has risen more than 50-fold, with 83, 203 waits in July compared with 1,613 in February.
However, nearly 75,000 people could die from non-Covid cases as a result of lockdown, devastating official figures buried in a 188-page document state.
The NHS guidance states: 'The project is about making the best mutually agreed decisions with patients and is not an exercise to reduce numbers on waiting lists.'
Those who decide to defer treatment would remain included in official statistics, it says.
Every patient waiting for planned treatment which involves hospital admission should be contacted before the review ends on October 23, for checks to ensure those in most urgent need are identified.
Though coronavirus cases are rising, patients suffering from other ailments including advanced cancer have been left 'in limbo' after their treatment was put on hold
Though there are still deaths from coronavirus, official projections estimate that there could 75,000 non-Covid deaths as a direct result of the Government's lockdown policy
Hospitals which have already contacted patients on their waiting lists to review their condition have been told they do not have to repeat the exercise if their information is up-to-date.
Trusts will later be asked to carry out a similar process for millions more patients waiting for outpatients appointments.
An NHS spokesman said: 'The number of operations and procedures taking place has more than doubled since April, and to ensure that those with the most urgent needs are prioritised, specialists and their teams will be making contact with all those currently waiting for a non-urgent operation to discuss and assess their condition and preferences.'
Professor Neil Mortensen, President of Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the NHS review would help to ensure the most urgent cases are spotted.
He told the Telegraph: 'Surgeons and other clinicians across the NHS need to keep in touch with their patients to make sure they are not deteriorating while they wait for hospital treatment. If their needs become more urgent, they will be a priority for an early date for treatment.'
Care home residents and staff will be the first to get a Covid-19 vaccine when one is approved, according to fresh government advice.
Everyone over the age of 80 and NHS staff will be second in line, updated guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation states.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled