A study published in the Bone and Joint Journal has found that large numbers of patients who are waiting for a joint replacement in the UK are suffering from pain that is ‘worse than death’.
The COVID pandemic and its ramifications have resulted in thousands of patients across the UK having non-urgent operations cancelled or delayed, including joint replacement surgery.
A study was carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh. It found that the number of patients suffering from agonising pain due to a delay in surgery has almost doubled compared to pre-pandemic figures.
The research team gathered information from patients awaiting treatment at ten hospitals across the UK. The sample included four in Scotland and one in Wales and used an internationally-recognised points system to calculate results.
The points system uses a scale from one to zero, where one represents good health and zero represents death. 35% of patients waiting for hip replacement surgery who were surveyed scored below zero. A state that is considered to be worse than death.
For comparison, a similar study was carried out in Scotland between 2014 and 2017. It found that 19% of patients waiting for hip replacement scored below zero. So that figure has grown by nearly 100% in the intervening years, a fact which surgeons mainly attribute to the pandemic.
Edinburgh orthopaedic surgeon Chloe Scott, author of the study, said that patients’ quality of life was reduced for every six months they spent on a waiting list. She told The Times:
“Many of these patients are in constant pain. They are therefore put on really strong opiate medication by their GP, which is not what is recommended for arthritis.”
She added that many patients are also suffering from sleep deprivation as their pain levels prevent them from sleeping.
Why are patients waiting so long?
Operations on the NHS have always been subject to waiting lists. But patients waiting for a joint replacement surgery rarely have to wait longer than a year. However, the pandemic has meant that all but the most urgent of operations have been cancelled or postponed.
This is partly due to the increased risk of COVID infection in a hospital setting. But also to the divergence of a large number of staff and resources to the treatment of COVID patients.
However, now that infection numbers have fallen to their lowest rate since September 2020. Furthermore, over 50% of the UK population has received at least one vaccine dose. Surgeons are now calling for massive investment in the health service to get things moving again.
What can be done?
Whilst the prime minister is promising massive investment in the health service soon, that’s not much help to patients who are suffering now.
Mr Shah Punwar and his colleagues are doing their best to reduce NHS waiting times through efficiency drives, and patients can help their own chances by asking their GP for a referral.
If you are awaiting a joint replacement operation and are in severe pain as a result, you can ask your GP for a referral at either of Mr Punwar’s practice locations using the NHS Choose and Book service.