UK COVID-19 Update: England's Waiting List Tops 5m, Hancock Denies Lies 

Tim Locke

June 10, 2021

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

England's Waiting List Tops 5m

England's NHS waiting list is the highest since records began in August 2007. NHS England data show 5.12 million people were on the waiting list at the end of April, the first time it has risen above five million.

NHS England highlighted the number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to begin treatment dropped by more than 50,000 in April, and in May, operations and other elective activity reached 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

National Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis, said: "Despite the extensive disruption to care caused by the pandemic, it's encouraging that today's figures show routine operations, cancer, and mental health care have now all rebounded sharply."

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said:  "Nearly 3000 people have now been waiting more than 2 years for a procedure which the NHS constitution promises should be performed within 18 weeks."

He added: "Waits of this magnitude are not acceptable to anyone," and that the NHS urgently needs more resources, and "innovative new approaches". 

A&E attendances were 65% higher than a year ago, although numbers were lower in the early stages of the pandemic.

Dr Nick Scriven, past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, commented: "The warning signs about where the NHS was heading were glaringly visible a number of years ago and what we are seeing in recent monthly data is the result of a lack of preparedness for the inevitable.

"With acute and emergency care under increasing strain and bed occupancy well over safe levels at more than 90% – yet far less impact from COVID at this point – we have major problems.

"We are in a dire state when it comes to record numbers of people waiting for treatment, but we must also remember the 4-hour emergency access target has not been met for years now with little to no change in approach."

Hancock Denies Lying to PM

England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a committee of MPs he didn't lie to the Prime Minister over the pandemic response, despite claims by former adviser Dominic Cummings.

He always acted with "honesty and integrity", he told the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee.

Avoiding a Third Wave

Intensive care consultant, Dr Richard Cree, James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, has returned to blogging on COVID-19.

"It does look like we are witnessing the beginning of a third wave of infections," he posted, saying he'd prefer a delay to further easing of England's lockdown.

"Ultimately the decision to lift all restrictions is a political one. It’s a difficult call to be honest and your opinion will depend on what your individual priorities are and whether you have been vaccinated twice. Any rise in hospital admissions will place more strain on an NHS that is trying to regain lost ground after the first two waves.

"Not surprisingly, there are many of us that would wish to see fewer COVID patients in hospital and so I believe that waiting a bit longer is the sensible thing to do. However, I fully understand the pressure on Boris to stick to his original timetable. We shall find out on Monday what he ultimately decides but, whatever decision is made, I remain confident that the third wave is not going to mirror the first or second ones."

Latest Data

Latest test and Trace figures for England show 25,091 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the week to June 2, which is up 45% on the previous week, and the highest weekly number since 31 March.

However, the number of rapid tests carried out is at the lowest level for 3 months despite everyone in England being eligible for twice-weekly testing.

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "We are now in an extremely precarious position, with the highest weekly number of new infections since the end of March. Health leaders are all too aware that rising infections, and especially at such a rapid rate, can easily lead to major rises in hospital admissions. Even a slight increase in admissions will affect capacity and could put recovery efforts at risk."

Public Health England said surveillance indicators suggest that at a national level, COVID-19 activity increased in week 22. Dr Yvonne Doyle, PHE medical director, said: "Once again we are seeing cases rapidly rise across the country and the delta variant is now dominant. The increase is primarily in younger age groups who are yet to receive the vaccine and we are seeing more hospital admissions."

PHE estimates vaccination has now avoided 14,000 deaths in people aged 60 and over.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released data on first dose COVID-19 vaccine uptake among over-40s by ethnic background:

  • 63.6% Black Caribbean

  • 67.8% Black African.

  • 70.3% Pakistani

  • 78.6% Bangladeshi

  • Chinese 80.3%

  • Indian 87.5%

  • White British 92.6%

GPs Planning to Quit

The University of Manchester's GP Worklife Survey found 37% of GPs were planning to quit direct patient care within 5 years even before the pandemic.

The figure was higher in over-50s (63%) and lower in under-50s (11%).

There was a small increase in job satisfaction.

Study lead, Professor Kath Checkland, said: "High levels of GPs planning to leave patient care even before the pandemic hit is very concerning. We are now carrying out a further round of the survey to try to capture changes in job satisfaction driven by the pandemic."

Meanwhile, the BMA's retired doctors committee has endorsed calls for an investigation into the flawed re-registration and recruitment processes many retired doctors faced when volunteering to help with the pandemic effort.

More Anaesthetists Needed

The Association of Anaesthetists has written to the UK's health secretaries calling for a doubling of training posts to cope with the pandemic and the NHS backlog.

Estimates say there's a shortage of 1000-2000 anaesthetists.

The Association’s Dr Roopa McCrossan said: “By providing these much-needed training posts now, the four nation governments will resolve the anaesthetic workforce shortage, protecting the future surgical and intensive care capacity of the NHS.  In short, it is a simple, cost effective, win-win for the governments involved and the NHS."  

More News

  • A report from the House of Lords Constitution Committee found new laws introduced to tackle the pandemic have not been subject to adequate parliamentary scrutiny. Government guidance and ministerial statements often failed to set out the law clearly, or lay claim to legal requirements that did not exist.

  • Heartlands Hospital, Birmingham, healthcare assistant Ayesha Basharat stole a bank card from an elderly patient who had just died from COVID-19 to buy snacks, Birmingham Crown Court heard. Basharat admitted theft and fraud by false representation and received a 5-month sentence, suspended for 18 months. The hospital said the incident was "disgraceful and clearly fell short of the high standards of integrity that we all expect of NHS employees".

  • Pandemic measures to allow telemedical abortion saw 88% of abortions in 2020 performed at under 10 weeks gestation, in comparison to 82% in 2019. Clare Murphy, chief executive, BPAS said the Government should keep the arrangements in place: "It would be a travesty if this was taken away from women who need it," she said.

  • There are calls for Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn to resign over claims the ministry planned to distribute below standard face masks to vulnerable people. He denied the claim and said masks were properly inspected.

  • Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe issued a statement including comments on vaccinating children. "Our understanding of the safety and efficacy of vaccines amongst adolescents and children, continues to evolve. For sure, children can be transmitters of COVID-19. However, their risk of severe disease or death is up to 800 times lower than someone who is aged 70 years or more. Our urgent priority should therefore continue to be to protect the elderly, people with comorbidities, and our frontline workers," he said. He told a news conference the delta variant is "poised to take hold in the region".

  • The Government is currently spending around £6.7 million per week to store the UK’s stock of PPE, MPs have been told. Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary to the Department of Health and Social Care, said purchasing of PPE was on the basis of "reasonable worst-case scenarios" that have only a 5-10% chance of happening.

  • Which? reported serious problems with the Governments list of COVID-19 test providers leaving some travellers "at the mercy of rogue operators" and said that regulatory oversight is "desperately needed". It said three firms have since been removed from the list.

This article contains information from PA Media.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.


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