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How long is too long when waiting for healthcare?

Like many of you, I was surprised to see the NHS backlog increase in the most recent data release to just over 7.5m people - that’s around 1 in 9 people in the UK!

Despite huge effort from those working in health & care, there are now more people waiting than ever before to access elective & outpatient care - with around 80% of the backlog thought to be outpatient care. Statistically, the majority of those waiting sit within the orthopaedic specialty, with many of them being seen by physiotherapists like myself for MSK related injuries and ongoing care.

I, like perhaps many others, have often thought of the private healthcare and/or the independent sector as being in competition with the NHS, or cynically, an emerging private arm of the much loved institution we call the NHS - but in fact it might just be the saviour. During the pandemic, we saw a united effort across all parts of health & care, including the independent sector, to come together and continued to provide emergency care, cancer care/operations, endoscopy and other services which, without, will have had catastrophic outcomes for some patient groups. Things have since gone ‘back to normal’ with care being delivered largely in the same way today as it was pre-pandemic, with some exceptions.

One thing that has changed, is the percentage of the population now self-funding to access independent healthcare rather than wait months on end for their appointment date; often to find the dates are then pushed further out as a result of other factors such as workforce shortages or industrial action; the latter thought to have impacted 1million appointments.

So with a backlog at its highest yet, plus (albeit cynically) the potential for future elective & outpatient cancellations later in the year due to further industrial action, and the dreaded ‘winter’ period may well see that backlog grow even further, I have been thinking about what does that mean for those waiting for care, and the option of self-funding to expedite recovery.  Well, firstly, you only have to follow the CSP Twitter page (and that of their current CEO Karen Middleton) to read about the impact of the lack of rehabilitation space in hospitals (many rehab spaces were converted to wards during the pandemic and remain in place).  Rehab is a crucial part of recovery from MSK related injuries, and there is much research showing the negative impact of delayed physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Therefore the option of self-funding feels like a legitimate route to getting back to a better you more quickly, rather than waiting for NHS care at present - and in some cases, allowing people to get back to work, or recommence the physical activity such as gardening, exercise or simply being more mobile and independent.

Of course, self-funding isn’t an option for everyone but with the right mix of support from the independent sector and independent clinics such as my own (, we may actually see this approach start to see a reduction in the backlog as people come off the NHS waiting list having accessed care independently and got better as a result.

These are unprecedented times for the health & care sector, and ultimately, healthcare professionals like myself just want to be able to provide safe, person centered, and accessible care - wherever that may be, and whatever is best for the patient. That is after all, why most of us do what we do. Please get in touch if you require any help!

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