By Sharon Brennan 27 July 2020

  •   NHS England modelling suggests 66,000 people could be waiting for neurosurgery by the end of 2020
  •   Charity says neurology waiting lists are already “at their highest in decades”
  •   NHS England says the number of non-urgent procedures is being increased

Waiting lists for “extremely serious” brain and spine surgery conditions could double by the end of the year, according to NHS England modelling data.

HSJ understands the national commissioner’s worst case forecast for neurosurgery is for the waiting list to grow to between 63,000 and 66,000 by December 2020, due to the impact of coronavirus. Analysis of NHS data by private provider Medbelle suggests the waiting list stood at 34,000 in January.

It is understood that waiting lists vary considerably from region to region, and the forecast is based on multiple variables such as theatre and staff capacity.

In April 2020, neurosurgery had the longest waiting times of any speciality except plastic surgery. According to the charity Neurological Alliance, the most common conditions neurosurgeons treat include tumours of the brain, spine and skull, trauma to the head and spinal cord, brain aneurysms, spina bifida and epilepsy.

It comes amid widespread concern over waiting lists for elective surgery, which has largely been suspended since March.

The NA charity’s chief executive, Georgina Carr, said the impact of delays to neurosurgery can be “extremely serious”, with prolonged delays to removing a malignant tumour being potentially fatal, and those with conditions such as trigeminal neuralgia living in “excruciating pain”.

She told HSJ: “Neurology has consistently not been deemed a clinical priority by NHS England. This was clear in 2016, when NHS England chose to no longer have a national clinical director for neurology.

“Now neurosurgery and neurology waiting lists are at their highest in decades…with no clear plan for this to be addressed.

“They must apply the same leadership they have shown to restarting cancer and fertility services to the restart of NHS neurology services.”

A report from the charity this month said 72 per cent of respondents had experienced delays to NHS treatment, with some saying covid-recovered patients have been prioritised for rehabilitation treatment ahead of them.

An NHS England spokesman said: “Thanks to the hard work of staff, the NHS treated almost 100,000 people for covid-19 alongside continuing to provide urgent and essential neurological care for patients – in line with the clearly published guidance – and as we move to the next phase of helping people, the NHS is increasing the number of non-urgent neurosurgery operations.”

Mr Paul Grundy, honorary secretary of the Society of British Neurological Surgeons, said: “Covid came along just as we were starting a pilot programme and a series of efficiency exercises to tackle [a backlog of cases], and it meant we had to stop this work.

“People are now starting to get concerned that however hard we try with those pieces of efficiency work, we might need more estate and manpower resources to solve this.”

He said the “biggest opportunity” to cut waiting lists would be to improve flow by transferring patients from specialist centres into local hospitals or rehabilitation centres more rapidly.

It is estimated that one in six people in England are living with a neurological condition.

The original article is  from the Health Service Journal (July 2020)