Patients will be forced to accept a virtual NHS appointment or wait a long time as part of controversial plans to abolish waiting lists.
NHS bosses say the use of telephone and video consultations will become much more common as part of a drive to lift waiting times of more than 18 months in April.
As part of the plans, trusts with the largest backlog of outpatient appointments — such as post-surgery follow-ups — will be matched with hospitals with spare capacity.
But patients in England are being told they can see a doctor sooner if they accept a remote appointment.
Patient groups warned it was “extremely dangerous” to “palm” people with virtual appointments. There are concerns that remote consultations increase the risk of doctors missing signs of serious illness.
Campaigners say this is especially true for some vulnerable patients, such as people with dementia, who struggle to communicate remotely.
The NHS backlog for routine treatments grew from 6.4 million to 6.6 million in May, the latest month of data, meaning one in eight people in England are now waiting for elective care, often with pain
In an effort to reduce the number of longest waiters, hospitals have also been told to prioritize first appointments over those waiting for routine second consultations.
According to the NHS’s Covid Recovery Plan, 18-month waiting times will be virtually eliminated by next spring and by March 2025 no patient will wait longer than a year.
Nearly HALF of patients with ‘red flag’ cancer symptoms do not visit their GP for six months – even if they cough up blood
Half of adults in the UK who have a possible cancer symptom do not contact their GP within six months of noticing a change in their body, a poll has revealed.
And 45 percent of people who experienced a “red flag” symptom of cancer, including coughing up blood, unexplained weight loss, and a new or unusual lump did not contact their primary care doctor within six months, according to a Cancer YouGov survey. Research UK .
Early diagnosis can help people survive cancer, but the chances of this happening drop significantly if people don’t tell their doctor about unusual changes in their health or possible cancer symptoms.
When colon cancer is diagnosed at stage one, the earliest stage, more than nine in 10 people will survive for five years or more, compared to one in ten when diagnosed at stage four, the final stage.
Campaigner Dame Deborah James, who died of colon cancer at the age of 40 in June, urged people to check their poo to help increase previous diagnoses.
The shocking numbers come as people across the country continue to struggle to get GP appointments.
A large NHS-backed survey last month found that half of sick Brits haven’t seen a GP in a year, and most said they find it too difficult to get an appointment.
Critics described the lack of access as a “ticking time bomb” that will lead to vital diagnoses being missed.
Sir James Mackey, NHS England’s elective recovery adviser, said a focus on digital will bring options to those who have had the longest wait.
Sir James told the health journal: ‘We are going to link organizations together so that organizations with capacity can help the people with the greatest challenges, virtually on the go.’
Those awaiting their first outpatient appointments, such as counseling and diagnosis, follow-up assessments after procedures and specialist advice for a long-term condition are included in the NHS backlog, which stands at 6.6 million.
But doctors say up to a fifth of their outpatient appointments didn’t need to be seen in person.
It comes as part of a broader move to digital to free up capacity.
The 2019 NHS long-term plan stated that a third of in-person outpatient appointments would go digital by 2024 to save time and resources.
Sir Jim added: ‘There is still a lot of work to be done’ [on virtual outpatients]we’re going to test the concept… We need to figure out how all the wiring and plumbing should work.
‘For example, what happens if the patient needs a diagnosis locally, after seeing a doctor virtually in another part of the country?
“It would also be great to try and create more consumer awareness here, by encouraging patients to ask virtual outpatients when on-site wait times can be too long, so they don’t just think they need to go to the local hospital.
“I think this can really help change the model if we can do it right.”
Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-60s, said: The Telegraph: ‘I think it’s perilous to try to trump people with virtual appointments.
‘You are talking about people with serious conditions, whether that is suspected cancer, or pain waiting for hip surgery or a knee replacement.
“These are conditions where you need to see a specialist in person, you need ‘hands on’ medicine to examine the physical problem, to see the mobility issues, and so on.”
He warned that patients waiting for hospital appointments had a GP consultation, so another virtual consultation further delayed their care.
After a patient has their first outpatient appointment, they are removed from the NHS waiting list.
So the approach could be “an attempt to massage the numbers” to reduce the number of people waiting for appointments, Mr Reed said. But this risks “forgetting what the patients actually need,” he added.
The latest data shows that a record 6.6 million people in England are waiting for routine hospital appointments.
The figure rose from 4.2 million in March 2020 as hospitals focused on managing the influx of Covid patients, combating staff absences and helping to roll out the vaccine.
NHS forecasts from February show the problem will get worse before it gets better. The figure is expected to peak at 10.7 million by March 2024 – at which point one in five people in England would be queuing.