Millions of patients waiting for knee and hip replacements, cataract surgery and hernia repairs now face delays to their treatment after the NHS announced it was postponing routine operations.
From April 15, while most cancer treatments and emergency cases will still go ahead, 700,000 non-urgent operations carried out in England each month will be postponed.
NHS England expects the ban will last at least three months, and says it will free up 30,000 hospital beds — 30 per cent of the 100,000 total — which can be used for patients left seriously unwell, often with breathing difficulties, as a result of Covid-19 infection.
While no one would argue against the move, it does leave millions not knowing when they will receive the operation they need. And it’s unlikely that going private will be an option.
Millions of patients waiting for knee and hip replacements, cataract surgery and hernia repairs now face delays to their treatment after the NHS announced it was postponing routine operations (stock image)
The 8,000 private hospital beds in England now available to the NHS will be used for urgent operations, cancer treatments and coronavirus patients, NHS England said last week. David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, said operations in private hospitals — both private and NHS funded — will go ahead as planned until the April deadline.
Yet Good Health has learnt many doctors working privately and in the NHS have already cancelled their private work so they can focus on helping out in the NHS.
So, even with insurance or the £12,000, for example, to pay for a knee replacement privately, it’s uncertain whether private hospitals will have the staff for new patients.
However, if you have to wait longer for your operation, there are things you can you do in the meantime to ease symptoms or make life easier.
Osteoarthritis — wear and tear of the joints — is the most common reason for hip and knee replacements, which are performed on around 200,000 patients a year.
According to Uzo Ehiogu, a physiotherapist at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham, patients who face a further delay for their procedure shouldn’t panic.
‘By definition, if you need a hip or knee replacement, you will already have significant degeneration of the joint caused by osteoarthritis,’ he says. ‘Joint replacements are only offered as a last resort to improve patients’ quality of life as an artificial knee or hip is never as good as a natural one.
‘However, waiting a few extra months for the operation, won’t make the osteoarthritis worse.’
There are, however, two simple exercises you can do at home that can help. These strengthen the muscles around the knee or hip and help maintain the range of movement in the joint, potentially easing the pain as you wait for surgery.
The first involves going from sitting to standing. Repeat this five to ten times, once or twice a day.
For the second exercise, sit on a chair and then straighten and bend the leg. Again five to ten times on each leg, once or twice a day.
Walking with a stick can also help reduce pain as this off-loads pressure from the painful joint.
Remember to take painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs as prescribed by your doctor, get plenty of sleep, and eat a balanced diet, adds Uzo Ehiogu. And if you find yourself stuck without medication, a cold compress on the affected joint can help with pain, he says.
The most common routine operation in the NHS is cataract surgery, performed on 400,000 patients a year. This procedure involves replacing the eye’s transparent lens — which can become cloudy with age — with an artificial one.
People needing the operation may go blind if they don’t have surgery.
‘Without treatment, cataracts can worsen and increase the risk of trips and falls,’ explains Dr Louise Gow, specialist lead in eye health at the charity Royal National Institute of Blind People.
‘Patients can look after themselves by minimising trip hazards around the home, using good lighting and asking their optometrist about magnifiers for reading.’
The good news is delaying surgery is unlikely to affect the end result.
Osteoarthritis — wear and tear of the joints — is the most common reason for hip and knee replacements, which are performed on around 200,000 patients a year (stock image)
‘While delaying routine cataract surgery means people will be living with sight loss, this can be quickly resolved once operations are performed,’ adds Dr Gow.
Meanwhile, for most patients waiting for a hernia operation — to repair a hole in the muscle or tissue often in the groin or near the tummy, which internal organs can push through — waiting a few extra weeks or months for the procedure will not make a big difference.
At least 80,000 of these operations are carried out a year.
‘The vast majority of these patients will have had a hernia for months so they can wait a little longer and it won’t get worse,’ explains Barry Paraskeva, a consultant general surgeon at London’s Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. But certain red flags can mean swift attention is needed.
‘If the lump in the groin becomes hard and painful, this is a sign an organ such as the intestine may be stuck in the hole and this requires emergency medical attention,’ says Mr Paraskeva.
‘A tummy ache and vomiting may be a sign the bowel is blocked and also needs immediate attention.’
Patients with a hernia should avoid heavy lifting, twisting, and explosive movements such as golf swings, to prevent further strain.
Supportive clothing and cycling-type shorts can help.
Meanwhile, caesareans will not be affected by the new plans, and mothers-to-be have been reassured that staff on maternity units won’t be drafted in to help out in other parts of a hospital.
‘Maternity units are increasingly providing consultations via phone or video link, when appropriate, so pregnant women do not have to travel unnecessarily,’ says a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.