In recent months, you have likely seen the news headlines that show NHS waiting times have risen to an all-time high.
Sky News reports figures from NHS England that show an estimated 7.22 million people were waiting to start routine hospital treatment at the end of February 2023, the highest total since records began in 2007.
The Mirror reports that many cancer patients are facing life-threatening delays for treatment. Current rules set a target of 85% of cancer patients undergoing treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral, but the NHS have not met this target for a single month since 2015.
The newspaper reports the case of an individual in Somerset who waited about a year and eight months for a test or scan, despite the maximum time being two weeks.
If you’re worried about having to face a long waiting list if you’re diagnosed with a serious condition, then Critical Illness protection could help you access treatment more quickly.
Read on to find out more about the current record waiting times, and how Critical Illness cover could help you.
NHS waiting lists bigger than the population of Denmark
The Mail reports the staggering statistic that the current NHS waiting list is more than the population of Denmark.
The newspaper reports that just under half of those referred to a specialist will have been in the queue for longer than 18 weeks — the maximum target set in 2004 by the government. Additionally, more than 360,000 people who have been referred for treatment will have been waiting a year or more.
Waiting lists for common conditions as of April 2023 are:
- Cancer – 229,721
- Heart conditions – 372,803
- Joints – 792,000
- Eye care – 656,000
- Gynaecology – 570,000
Additionally, experts – such as the Royal College of Ophthalmologists – claim the numbers needing help could be much higher because they only include patients awaiting a first appointment, usually to get a diagnosis.
Strikes are adding to waiting times and people will “inevitably die”
While these waiting lists were growing during the Covid-19 pandemic, industrial action by NHS staff including nurses and junior doctors have also increased waiting times.
Indeed, medical experts say that critically ill patients “will inevitably die” because hospitals are having to cancel surgery as a direct result of the junior doctors’ strikes in England. Leading cardiologists say that there are bound to be fatalities among people with serious heart problems whose precarious health meant they were “a ticking timebomb” and need surgery as soon as possible.
Dr Richard Grocott-Mason, a cardiologist who is also the chief executive of the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals, told the Guardian: “One of our trust’s core values is to put patients first and so I feel it is only right to warn that some patients will inevitably die due to the cumulative impact of delaying hundreds who are on the waiting list”.
As an example, March 2023’s three-day strike by junior doctors in England over their demand for a 35% pay rise led to 175,000 outpatient appointments and operations being cancelled.
Delays can have catastrophic consequences
So, what might NHS delays mean for you?
The simple fact is that failure to access prompt treatment can lead to further complications or diseases not been diagnosed early enough to treat successfully.
For example, studies show that for each month patients with breast, bowel or head and neck cancers have their treatment delayed, the chances of them dying from the disease increase from 6% to 13%.
In fact, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, an estimated 117,000 people in England died in 2021 while awaiting NHS treatment.
Meanwhile, eye specialists are concerned that some people may suffer permanent sight loss because they cannot get to a specialist in time to prevent the worsening of serious conditions such as glaucoma, which affects around 700,000 people in Britain.
“This is extremely urgent,” says Mel Hingorani, the honorary secretary of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. “We are seeing people develop sight loss as a result of being unable to access services.”
The fact is that waiting weeks, months, or even years for treatment for the most serious conditions could mean it is diagnosed too late, or that treatment will be less effective.
So, if you want to ensure you can access specialist treatment when you need it, Critical Illness protection could be the answer.
Critical Illness cover can help you to access specialist treatment
Critical Illness cover is designed to provide financial support when you’re diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Common conditions covered under this protection include:
- Many types of serious cancer
- Heart attack
- Multiple sclerosis
- Loss of eyesight or a limb
- Parkinson’s disease.
When you make a successful claim, you will normally receive a tax-free lump sum. The Association of British Insurers reports that, in 2022, insurers paid more than 18,000 Critical Illness claims totalling more than £1.2 billion. The average claimant received almost £68,000.
Once you receive your payout, you have many options as to how you can use this lump sum.
Many people elect to pay off debts such as a mortgage, loans, or credit cards. Others may have to take an extended period off work, so use the money to replace income or to maintain their regular commitments such as mortgage, rent and bills.
An alternative way you could use your payout is to pay for specialist care.
Back in September 2022, the Guardian reported that 1 in 10 UK adults had turned to the private sector or independent healthcare in the previous 12 months. Of those, almost two-thirds (63%) did so because they faced long delays or could not access treatment on the NHS.
If you do want to access specialist treatment and care more quickly, the payout from a Critical Illness policy can provide the funds for this. Without it, you might have to borrow the money, sell possessions or even your home, or deplete your hard-earned savings.
Tailor Critical Illness cover to your specific needs
When arranging Critical Illness cover, you choose a lump sum that meets your needs, and how long you want your cover to run for. You will then usually pay the same amount each month until your policy ends.
For example, you may decide to take out £100,000 worth of cover over 20 years.
It’s a valuable option if you want to help cover general outgoings, any additional costs you might incur as a result of your diagnosis, and other financial commitments. You can also use the money to fund private treatment.
When you take out your policy, you can also choose to make your cover amount increase in line with inflation. This means that your monthly payments may rise, but it ensures that the lump sum won't be worth less in the future because of the rise in the cost of living.
As Critical Illness experts, we can help you to find the right policy for you. We work with dozens of the UK’s leading insurers and will scour the market for you to find the most appropriate policy at the best possible price.
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