David Nicholson, former head of the UK's National Health Service, has warned of far-reaching consequences of the backlog of medical care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The backlog is truly frightening. We can very easily get to the next election with people waiting over two years. It's easy to do that", Nicolson told The Guardian on Friday.
The ex-NHS boss was referring to a drastic rise in the number of those who've waited at least a year for vital operations since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to Nicolson, the delays related to getting treatment in the UK may pose risks to patients' health and become one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's worst headaches.
"The whole issue of access [to care] is a greater threat to the NHS than privatisation because poor access undermines confidence amongst those people who fund the service – taxpayers", Nicolson argued.
He also expressed сoncern over the dismal situation with the so-called "priority two" or "P2" patients, who currently need to undergo urgent cancer or heart surgery.
"Even the waiting list problems that I dealt with in my career, we've never had that problem, of people who need treatment within 28 days or they will deteriorate. That's a big, big, big issue. P2 patients need to be treated within that time or harm will occur to the patient", the former NHS head underscored.
He was echoed by Neil Mortensen, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, who said that the coronavirus pandemic had led to the postponement of many planned operations "so that NHS staff could focus on the most urgent surgery, and looking after COVID patients".
"However, the longer the disruption to 'normal' NHS services continues, the larger the backlog of surgery, and the longer the waits. We desperately need a clear and well-funded plan to deal with the backlog, otherwise NHS waiting times will become a huge political issue", Mortensen asserted.
The chiefs threatened to start reducing patient care if Chancellor Rishi Sunak fails to allocate £8 billion ($11 billion) for the NHS to tackle extra COVID-19 costs.
Right now, there are about 4.5 million people on NHS waiting lists, including 304,044 who have waited for longer than a year, according to the NHS' most recent figures.