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The Impact of Covid-19 on Elective Surgery

Every country’s healthcare systems scrambled to adapt when the pandemic first took hold of the world in early 2020. Some countries that have lived through pandemics before like SARS had a head start but the wider impact that COVID-19 had on their neighbouring countries has devastating knock-on effects.

Hospitals were converted into COVID-19 treatment clinics instead of oncology, transplants and physical therapy. Doctors who were specialists in their fields helped to fight off this new illness that was gripping the world. Unavoidably this had a knock-on effect on patients waiting for elective surgeries, whose place in the waiting list was pushed further and further back, some waiting another year for a new date.

An estimated 10 million patients in the UK are on waiting lists, which is double the amount from before the pandemic. Many of these patients are experiencing a loss in quality of life due to mobility issues or pain management. Almost a year ago now, the UK hit an estimated 86,000 cancelled elective joint replacement surgeries. A life-changing procedure for a condition that can get progressively worsen as time goes on without treatment.1

The UK is far from being unique in this situation, many more countries are struggling to narrow this list down and many are seeking treatments abroad instead of remaining on a waiting list for an unknown amount of time.

One year on and it isn’t looking to be improving, a whole year of cancelled procedures and tragic deaths of nurses being disproportional2 to the population, the healthcare for many countries are struggling to regain normality.

However, it’s not bad news everywhere. The OECD measured the percentage of patients who had waited one month or more to be seen or treated by specialists and Switzerland outranked many countries across the world at just 12% compared to Canada’s and Norway’s 61%. 3

The healthcare system has been relentlessly tested by COVID-19 in the past year and a half. Staff have been stressed and overworked since before the pandemic and now they see the uphill climb of treating this backlog of procedures that lies ahead of them.

So, what is in store for global healthcare post-COVID-19? No one really has any decisive answers but medical tourism certainly looks to be a promising one.


  1. BODS/BOA Survey of impact of COVID-19 on UK orthopaedic practice and implications on restoration of elective services - Part 2
  2. Nurses have increased risk of death from COVID-19, data confirms | RCNi
  3. Health Care Wait Times By Country 2021 (