A LEADING orthopaedic surgeon has said it will “be years” before NHS waiting lists recover from the impact of the Covid pandemic.

Mr Joe Baines, the clinical lead for the orthopaedic team at the Golden Jubilee hospital in Clydebank, which treats NHS patients from across Scotland, is preparing restart elective surgeries for the first time next Wednesday.

Since the coronavirus outbreak took off in March, Mr Baines and orthopaedic colleagues have been limited to operating on emergency cases only, such as patients who had broken a bone around their hip replacement or developed infections.

He said clearing the backlog of patients waiting for joint replacements will be “very challenging”.

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Mr Baines said: “If you look at what was already happening in terms of the waiting times, they were on their way up already.

"So three months of doing very little or nothing and then six months of a slower pace, is going to be a huge challenge - more than anything for patients who are going to be waiting longer and in pain.

“We will be working harder as well and probably more flexibly to try to get as much as we can from what we’ve got. But it’s worldwide.

"I don’t think there is any scope for going elsewhere for treatments because this is hitting every country.”

“The impact on patients will be serious, but I think it’s going to be years before we recover,” he added.

Requirements for enhanced infection control between operations and use of personal protective gear (PPE), which slow surgeons down, mean the Jubilee team will only be able to carry out nine procedures a week at first, compared to the normal 20.

Priority will be given initially to patients under 70 who are at lower risk from Covid infection, starting with day case operations before hip and knee replacements resume later in July.

“It’s a balance between Covid risk and clinical need,” said Mr Baines.

“We are starting with simpler things, just to test the reliability of our systems really.

"So we’re going to start with day case operations, things where patients don’t have to stay overnight - such as keyhole operations, foot and ankle operations, and hands.

“Within two or three weeks we will build it up to hip and knee replacements.

“But we are choosing first those patients who are at a lower risk of contracting Covid: patients without underlying health conditions and under the age of 70.

“Before the pandemic, what would be normal for us would be to have five theatres every day of the week doing four joint replacements in each one of those theatres.

“In the restart we’ll be doing three per theatre and we’re only going to have three theatres running at the beginning. Its going to be more of a gradual build up.”

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Although the Golden Jubilee admitted some Covid patients to its intensive care wards early in the outbreak as beds ran out in neighbouring health boards, it is now considered to be a 'Covid-free' or 'Covid-light' space.

This means many cancer operations - such as bladder and colon - which would normally have taken place in major acute hospitals can be performed at the Golden Jubilee instead, which has only previously carried out lung cancer surgery.

Cancer patients are particularly at risk from serious or fatal complications if they catch coronavirus around the time of surgery.

As a result, some cancer patients requiring less complex surgery - such as breast and skin cancer - have also been sent by the NHS to private hospitals, where there are no Covid patients.

From July 1, planned heart and lung surgery, cataracts removals, and a range of diagnostic tests will also resume at the Golden Jubilee - but all patients will have to quarantine themselves beforehand.

Mr Baines said: "Before patients come and have treatment here, the first thing we'll do is speak to them over videolink or on the phone to explain what is going to happen and to discuss the risk of Covid.

"They will be asked to self-isolate for two weeks before coming in and on their admission they will undergo a Covid test.

"When they come into the building it will look a little bit different. There will be a one way system to facilitate physical distancing, and staff will be wearing PPE more so than in the past - masks, gloves, and aprons.

"The aim is to ensure the safety of staff and patients."

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Jann Gardner, chief executive of NHS Golden Jubilee, said: “[We are] well placed to start to accelerate treatment for patients who have been waiting for diagnostic or surgical care during the pandemic.

“We have not only redesigned existing services, but have added new specialties to the Golden Jubilee portfolio so that we can help reduce the number of people across Scotland waiting for appointments and treatment for heart disease, cancer, hip and knee replacements, cataracts, general surgery and diagnostic interventions such as endoscopies.

“To allow us to do this, we have created two new wards and will be opening these as soon as possible.

"We are also accelerating our planned expansion to enable the opening of six new ophthalmology theatres, which will be available from September.”