As health-care systems worldwide scrambled to cope with the first wave of COVID-19, many countries made the necessary decision to cancel all non-emergency surgical procedures to free up personnel and resources to care for patients with COVID-19. Nearly 10 million people in the UK are now waiting for surgical procedures, up from 4 million before the pandemic hit. Among them are nearly 100 000 patients whose joint replacement surgeries were cancelled during the first COVID-19 wave, many of whom are left struggling with daily activities because of severe pain and limited mobility. The UK is not alone in this dilemma; a US report projected a backlog of more than 1 million joint and spinal surgeries by mid-2022.
Drastic measures will be required to clear these backlogs.
Although elective surgeries resumed in the UK (and many other countries) in mid-2020, most hospitals are functioning at substantially reduced capacity, which translates to an ever-lengthening waitlist. As of September, 2020, nearly 140 000 patients in England alone had been waiting for more than a year for their surgeries—100 times the number in 2019. And with a new, highly transmissible variant of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in the UK, resulting in a third national lockdown and further cancellations, patients now face even longer waits.