If you are suffering from a debilitating condition like arthritis, a hip or knee replacement can be life-changing. This type of surgery can help you to regain your mobility and quality of life, enabling you to resume many of the activities you used to enjoy before pain and stiffness prevented you. As orthopaedic surgeons, we see the positive impact this has not only on people’s physical health but on their mental health, too.
But with the number of people in the UK waiting for hospital treatment reaching a record high of 5.6 million in July 2021, longer and longer delays are an inevitability for many. That means growing numbers of patients – particularly older people – are living with severe pain and loss of mobility. What impact is this having and, if you are one of those people who is waiting, what can you do about it?
Research into waiting times
Independent Age, a charity that campaigns for older people and the issues that matter to them, published a report in September this year considering the issues affecting older people’s access to surgery pre and post pandemic. In particular, it explored how longer waiting times affect people in later life.
The extent of the problem
The researchers acknowledge that the NHS has been struggling in recent years to meet demand for its services. While the UK’s ageing population is a factor, the pandemic has pushed the NHS, and those working in it, “to the brink”. By July 2021, patients waiting more than 18 weeks for surgery has risen from 8% in 2016 to 16% in 2020 and 32% in 2021. Nearly 300,000 patients had waited 52 weeks or more.
They point out that the 5.6 million people currently waiting for hospital treatment doesn’t include the millions who haven’t yet come forward for treatment, maybe because they are avoiding health services for fear of catching Covid-19 or because they don’t want to put pressure on an already-overstretched service. They refer to these as the ‘missing patients’ and, according to projections by the Health Foundation’s REAL Centre, if 75% of missing patients are belatedly referred for specialist care, the waiting list could reach 9.7 million by March 2024, with fewer than half of patients treated within 18 weeks.
Independent Age confirms that a large proportion of those waiting are older people and that many of them are living in pain every day as they wait for treatments on their hips or knees, or other potentially life-changing procedures.
Impact of extended waiting times
If you have a degenerative condition like arthritis, you will experience worsening symptoms and may eventually struggle with everyday activities like walking, getting in and out of a car or climbing stairs. This can lead to frustration, low mood and feelings of disempowerment.
Independent Age makes a number of recommendations in its report including mandating a personalised care and management plan for everyone waiting longer than six months for treatment; helping patients to prepare for their treatment and ‘wait well’; and working with charities and patient groups to signpost people waiting for treatment to support.
If you are experiencing an extended wait for joint replacement surgery, there are some things you can do to ‘wait well’ and ensure the best outcomes when your surgery arrives. Losing excess weight can relieve pressure on damaged hip and knee joints and may help decrease the chances of post-surgical complications. If you smoke, giving up prior to your operation can also help to reduce the risk of complications, as well as improving your overall health. Exercises to stretch and strengthen your muscles can help relieve pain and will support your recovery from surgery.
If you are in pain, talk to your doctor about prescribing stronger painkillers. You may also wish to discuss using ice packs to relieve pain, and non-surgical treatments such as injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid into the affected joint. Use walking aids to support you and make sure your home and workplace is arranged to minimise trip hazards and ensure that commonly-used items are accessible.
Growing numbers of NHS patients who can afford to are choosing to undergo private joint replacement surgery rather than face extended and unpredictable waiting times. We are happy to discuss private hip or knee replacement surgery with you as not only will you be able to have your surgery far quicker but thanks to our use of innovative Mako robotic arm-assisted technology, you will benefit from pinpoint accuracy which supports better outcomes and faster recovery times. Contact us for more details.
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Please be reassured that despite the ongoing UK Covid-19 pandemic, types of orthopaedic treatments are now again being routinely offered to patients. Having the vaccine does not mean that your treatment won’t go ahead. However, in some circumstances, such as for planned surgery, it is advisable to delay it by a couple of weeks to ensure your body responds in the optimum way to the vaccine. If in doubt, please talk to your orthopaedic consultant or contact us for more guidance to help get your orthopaedic treatment back on track.
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