As elective surgery continues to be affected by the response to coronavirus, Jon Smith looks at the current position regarding knee surgery in the UK.
There’s a problem with writing about elective procedures such as knee replacements right now. The risk is that, in focusing on one aspect of a hospital’s workload, you ignore the obvious and still pressing priorities elsewhere. That would be spectacularly tin-eared, so let’s preface this piece by acknowledging the work being carried out by our colleagues across the NHS in fighting COVID-19, and also acknowledge the work of private hospitals in supporting that response.
Without question, the fastest route back to the sort of ‘business as usual’ that will see NHS waiting lists reducing is to get the vaccine(s) approved and rolled out, and in the meantime to follow the general guidance to avoid placing further pressure on extremely stretched resources.
There are people sat on knee replacement waiting lists right now whose NHS procedures were postponed as lockdown 1 bit, who are still waiting as lockdown 2 ends. Which means that, for nine months longer than should have been necessary, they’re been putting up with often crippling pain. For them, business as usual can’t come soon enough. So where are we right now?
Your knee operation – NHS waiting lists
As things stand, it looks as though NHS waiting lists will take between 12-18 months to reduce to normal levels. There are many unknowns in that – the potential for another lockdown, a rise in hospital admissions, greater hospital staff absence than the already significant numbers we’re seeing – but the arrival of the first vaccine at least gives us hope that waiting lists should not grow much further.
That’s cold comfort, of course, if you desperately need an operation now.
Are private knee operations still taking place?
Yes, albeit in a somewhat limited capacity as the private sector continues to support the NHS. The existing contract runs out at the end of 2020 but, whilst you wouldn’t bet against some slight extension, the requirement for anymore long term arrangements should reduce as vaccine availability increases.
Normal service for private patients, then, should return relatively early in the new year, subject to the pandemic taking another lurch for the worse.
Is there a waiting list for private knee surgery?
Yes. As you’d expect given the loss of capacity to the NHS, waiting lists for private surgery are unusually high. It’s important to remember though that these things are relative. Typical private healthcare waiting lists are very low, so even a significant increase would leave the waiting lists still far, far below the equivalent NHS wait.
Book a knee replacement privately now and you’ll be waiting weeks, not months/years.
Do you have to isolate before my operation?
Yes, and this applies whether you are an NHS or private patient. During summer, as coronavirus levels had reduced within the community, that isolation was down to 72 hours. Unfortunately, the recent escalation in numbers has seen the isolation period revert to 14 days.
That prevents a further barrier to treatment, as whole families – not just the patient – are required to isolate. We fully realise how onerous this can be from a practical, social, financial and emotional perspective and those isolation periods will be reduced as soon as it is safe to do so.
Should you wait until the pandemic is over to see us about your knee?
No. There’s no doubt we’re as eager as you are to see the vaccines rolled out so that we can start to make a difference to that backlog, but that shouldn’t prevent you from seeking help now if you are in pain.
Throughout the pandemic we have been running remote consultations and we have been happily surprised by just how well these have worked. In many instances it is possible to make a good diagnosis remotely, which can then put you on the pathway to treatment.
In fact, many patients have been telling us that they prefer a remote consultation. They don’t have to leave the house for it. They don’t have to pay for parking. And if they (or the person bringing them to their appointment) work, then there’s no disruption to the day.
You can book a remote consultation here.
And if you prefer a face to face consultation, we’re still doing those too. Book an appointment now.
If your only option is NHS treatment, you will be seen – but your wait is likely to be significant. If you can access private treatment, do it now and not only will you be seen quicker, you’ll help to reduce that NHS backlog too.
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