Doctors are “gravely concerned” about the deterioration of their patients’ health during the coronavirus pandemic, leading medics have said.
Many services were paused while the NHS focused on treating Covid-19 patients and other urgent and emergency care.
But the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said that doctors are worried that their patients’ health may have worsened as a result of service disruptions during the pandemic.
It comes as an RCP poll found that 60% of doctors worry that patients in their care have suffered harm or complications following diagnosis or treatment delays during the pandemic.
Only 5% of doctors feel that their organisations are fully prepared for a potential second wave of Covid-19, the survey found.
A report published on Monday into heart attacks during lockdown found that there was a “substantial decline in admissions” among acute heart attack patients.
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “Delays to treatment are so often a major issue for the NHS but as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s fair to say we’ve reached crisis point.
“Doctors are, understandably, gravely concerned that their patients’ health will have deteriorated to the point where they will need much more extensive treatment than previously, at a time when NHS resources are already incredibly depleted.
“We also cannot underestimate the need to prepare for a second wave of Covid-19 infection, which threatens to compound the situation. Without careful and rigorous preparation, a second wave coupled with the winter flu season, could overwhelm the NHS.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “Alongside responding rapidly to the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring over 100,000 patients could receive hospital care, NHS staff also provided more than five million urgent tests, checks and treatments during the peak of the virus, and local teams have already made significant progress in bringing back those services in a way that is safe for patients and staff.
“Updated guidance from Nice last week, which reflects the continued decline in infections and the increased availability of Covid testing, will help them now go further and faster, with a national ambition to get back to normal levels of testing and treatment by autumn.”
Last week, Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, wrote to all hospitals asking them to “accelerate the return to near-normal levels of non-Covid health services, making full use of the capacity available in the ‘window of opportunity’ between now and winter”.
But the NHS Confederation said that desires to get the NHS back to near-normal levels of service before winter will be a “big stretch”.
Meanwhile, reports suggest a steep rise in the number of patients waiting for more than a year for NHS treatment.
Experts told the news site on Monday that increases of a similar scale are likely to be replicated across the UK after many hospital treatments were put on pause during the pandemic.
In other developments:
– A report from the Home Affairs Select Committee claims that failure to quarantine travellers arriving in the UK in the early days of the pandemic “accelerated” the spread of Covid-19.
– The Children’s Commissioner said that schools must be prioritised over pubs and shops in planning for future coronavirus lockdowns.
– New laws enforcing lockdown restrictions in areas of the north of England including Manchester, parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire came into force at midnight.
– Figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have now been 56,600 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.