How Will Surgery Delays Throughout COVID-19 Impact the Healthcare World?

Surgery delays due to COVID-19 have been rife during this (almost a) year. But what affect is this having on patients and doctors, both now and in the future? Take a look…

Surgery delays due to COVID have become the norm throughout the pandemic. What with the additional pressure on NHS staff, alongside the concerns over the exposure of vulnerable individuals, it had to be done. After all, putting these people at risk of exposure could have caused more harm than good.

That said, these delays are still going on, after almost a year, which is having a huge impact on the healthcare system. Not only is it affecting the patients, but it’s no doubt having an emotional impact on dedicated doctors who aren’t able to do their best work for every patient that comes through their doors.


The knock-on impact these may have in the future could also be devastating. We can’t predict the extent of this impact, but it’s safe to say that it won’t be good. To take a more detailed look at the impact of the delays in surgery on those involved, read on…

What Types of Surgeries Are Being Delayed Due to COVID-19?

First and foremost, we need to take a look at some of the surgeries which are being delayed. After all, emergency surgeries which may immediately save an individual’s life are still going ahead and can’t be avoided. With this in mind, some of the surgeries which are being set aside include, but are not limited to:

  • Cardiology (heart and circulatory) surgeries
  • Orthopaedic surgeries
  • Reconstructive surgeries, for example breast reconstruction after a mastectomy
  • Non-emergent cancer treatments
  • Elective surgeries, for example cosmetic, or hip and knee replacements

Why Are Surgeries Being Delayed During COVID-19?

There are a huge number of reason surgeries are being delayed during COVID-19, but it really all boils down to the following:

Staffing Issues

The NHS were always understaffed, overworked, and underpaid, but this is ever more so the case now. With the huge influx of patients pouring through the doors, the already overworked staff are now being pushed to breaking point. Because of this, there simply isn’t capacity for non-emergent cases, including certain surgeries.

Concerns Over Exposure

Whilst in hospital, doctors, nurses and other staff are taking every precaution to minimise the risk of catching the virus. This includes masks, PPE, social distancing, regular deep cleaning, and more.

That said, this does not completely eliminate the risk of patients, especially those with existing conditions, from catching it. Because of this, the best course of action overall really is to avoid hospitals altogether.

The question is, what sort of impact are these delays having, both now and in the future?

What Impacts Are These Delays Having on Patients?

Starting with the patients who are having their surgeries delayed, there are many potential effects, including:

  • Pain: for those looking to get elective surgery on their knees and hips, for example, they may be in pain or discomfort, and unable to go about their daily live easily without this surgery.
  • Mental health issues: for those looking for cosmetic surgery, for example, to reconstruct their breasts after a mastectomy or their face after an injury, they may experience mental health issues if this isn’t done soon.
  • Anxiety: for those with life-threatening diseases, like cancer, who aren’t receiving preventative treatment, concerns over how this may affect them in future could cause major anxiety.
  • Changed prognosis: because many preventative surgeries are not going ahead, this might mean that the life expectancy of the individual may become shorter.

Generally, it’s clear to see that quality of life for those who aren’t receiving their treatment could be diminished greatly. What’s more, their chances of survival later on down the line might be affected too.

What Impacts Are These Delays Having on Doctors?

It’s not just the patients who will be affected, but the doctors too. The domino effect of issues they may experience include:

  1. Impossible workload: we’ve already talked about the extreme workload, but this could mean they simply can’t provide each patient with the level of care they want to.
  2. Stress: because of this, they may experience extreme levels of stress and burnout.
  3. Unable to do job properly: this burnout, stress, and workload could mean the individual is unable to do their job to the best of their ability, putting potential lives at risk due to potential mistakes etc.
  4. Emotional trauma: they’re likely being emotionally affected by this stress and inability to complete their workload properly. Couple this with the deaths surrounding them every day, and it could lead to an overwhelming amount of emotion.
  5. Mental health issues: finally, this could lead to long-term mental health issues, which will no doubt compound the stress, emotion and quality of life for everyone involved.

What Impact Might This Have on the Future of Healthcare?

It’s likely that the lack of preventative surgeries going ahead could mean that diseases progress later down the line to become untreatable. Specifically, many medical professionals have shown concern over the greater impact that delays could have on those suffering from cancer.

Not only have non-emergent cancer surgeries been delayed, meaning life-preserving medical help isn’t administered, but diagnoses of cancers have also been delayed also. This is the case for a number of reasons, including:

  • Virtual doctor’s appointments meaning doctors might not get the full picture to diagnose the cancer effectively.
  • Delayed appointments, meaning potential cancers aren’t spotted soon enough.
  • Delayed cancer screenings, including smear tests etc., which means cancers aren’t caught in the earlier stages.
  • Lack of staff, meaning remaining staff are under a lot of pressure, and may misdiagnose, leading to even further delays.
  • Patients avoiding the doctors altogether due to COVID anxiety.

These are just some of the many reasons why the healthcare sector is being altered by the pandemic. As you can see, all of these reasons mean that cancer diagnoses and treatments are being delayed. This essentially means that they may not be caught early enough, putting further pressure on the NHS, and causing mortality rates to increase.

Specifically, research has shown that here could be an increase of between 7.9 and 9.6 percent in deaths due to breast cancer than pre-pandemic. Although this may not sound like a huge amount, nearly 60,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. This means that, on top of the 11,500 women who die of breast cancer each year, nearly 6,000 more people may die due to the effects of COVID.

Put into perspective in this way, it’s clear that this will have a huge impact on the healthcare system. More aggressive cancer treatments will be required later on, more staff and resources will be taken up, and more carers will be required, on top of many other knock-on effects.

This cancer model is just one of the many drastic impacts COVID-19 will likely have in the future. We still don’t really know the extent of the impact, but we can predict that it may affect prognosis and mortality rates for many years to come.

Facing the Facts…

The hard facts are that we don’t know the long-term effects these surgery delays will have on our healthcare sector. We also don’t know the long-term effects this will have on the patients and doctors involved.

For anyone suffering due to a delayed surgery or their intense workload, seeking help is paramount. You don’t have to go through it alone, so be sure to reach out to a mental health service for some support. Although we don’t know the extent of the problem as of yet, we can go through it together.

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