Updating waiting lists for surgery

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that planned surgery had to be put on hold, resulting in many people waiting longer than they should for operations such as joint replacements.

The NHS has been developing plans to address the backlog of operations. However, plans may differ between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and even between different health boards and NHS trusts.

NHS England has asked hospitals to review surgical waiting lists, giving people the chance to say whether they:

  • want to go ahead with surgery as soon as possible
  • would rather delay surgery for the time being but remain on the waiting list
  • no longer wish to have surgery and to come off the waiting list.

NHS England say that you should be able to ask for a longer consultation if you need more information before you decide. This would usually be done by phone.

What should I think about if I have a consultation?

If you're having a consultation, it will be useful to think about the following beforehand:

  • whether your symptoms have been any better, worse, or have stayed the same over recent months
  • how you’ve been managing your conditions
  • any recent changes in your life that might make it difficult to go ahead with surgery at this time.

You might also want to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic might affect your surgery or other treatments.

Make a note of any questions you want to ask – for example:

  • What precautions are in place in hospital to reduce the risk of COVID-19?
  • Could your medical conditions put you at greater risk of COVID-19?
  • What support and aftercare will be available and could this be affected if further ‘lockdown’ measures in place?
  • Is your condition likely to get worse if you decide to delay surgery for the time being?
  • What other treatments might be available if you delay surgery?

Who decides whether I have surgery or not?

The decision to postpone or go ahead with your surgery should be a shared decision based on:

  • the expert knowledge of your doctor or surgeon
  • your own thoughts and feelings about whether surgery is right for you at the present time.

You should feel free to ask questions to be sure that you fully understand and the options that are open to you.

What happens if I choose to delay surgery?

If you decide to hold off on surgery, you will be moved further down the waiting list. Your NHS team should contact you no longer than 6 months later to ask whether you still want to wait for surgery, or to go ahead. You should also be given details of how to get in touch if you change your mind at any time.

What should I do to look after myself while I’m waiting for surgery?

It’s likely that your surgery will already have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know many people have found it difficult to keep fit during the pandemic – because facilities were closed or group activities cancelled or because of changes in your daily routine.

But the more you can do to maintain your physical fitness before surgery, the better your chances of a good recovery when you have your operation.

Below are some tips to help you stay in good shape for your surgery when the time comes:

  • Try to keep active – even if you’ve not been able to take part in some of your usual activities. The links below may give you some ideas.
  • Talk to your healthcare team if you feel your medications aren’t keeping your condition under control – whether it’s for your arthritis or other conditions as well.
  • Use the time to make plans for how you’ll manage at home during your recovery from surgery.
  • If you’ve slipped into some unhealthy habits during periods of lockdown, try to get these aspects of your lifestyle back under control – for example, by cutting back on unhealthy foods and alcohol. And if you can stop smoking, this will really help to improve your health ready for surgery.
  • Contact your healthcare team if you develop any new symptoms or concerns. The sooner any new health problems can be dealt with, the more likely it is you’ll be fit for surgery when the time comes.