Retired doctors are being urged by their peers to remain in post and help solve the Covid-19 backlog as a new poll shows two thirds of medics think the National Health Service will take years to return to normal.

Doctors leaders are also calling for the NHS to make better use of technology to triage cases and clear the queue of operations and treatments which have built up because of the pandemic.

The news came as a British Medical Association survey of over 4,200 doctors found that seven in 10 thought it was unlikely that “normal levels of activity” will be achieved within a few months.

A third of doctors told the survey – carried out between Aug 6 and Aug 12 – that they thought it would take more than a year to clear waiting lists for elective procedures.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman of the British Medical Association, urged the NHS to continue with the employment of the doctors.

In April NHS England said that 4,800 former staff, many of whom were doctors, had answered the call to return to work to cope with the pandemic.

Another 10,300 former NHS staff were due to return in following weeks having completed pre-employment checks so they were ready for deployment.

He said: “We should not remove all of those doctors who have volunteered to help the NHS. With the retired doctors we don’t want to see them put at risk themselves because they are often older.

“But what they can do is a significant amount of work to clear the backlog.”

He said: “This is not a panacea to solving the backlog, but it may be one in a range of options that could play a part in prioritisation.

“We need to retain as many staff as possible, including those who so admirably came forward and returned to the workforce”.

Dr Nagpaul added: “Any patient who has health concerns should not be deterred from seeking help from their GP or hospital and can expect to receive appropriate care.

“Doctors do not want people putting off accessing the health service when they need to. It is important that patients seek help, because if they do not, they risk their condition getting worse.

“This not only adds to the patient’s distress but also puts further pressure on the health service further down the line.”

He also said that he wanted more “digital enablement” to replace some face to face care which can allow doctors to “manage patients much more efficiently”.

This included texting results to patients or emailing blood pressure results and dealing with them online when previously this would have required a GP’s appointment.

He said doctors wanted hospitals to make sure they use technology “at its fullest while at the same protect people who are not suitable for the use of technology”.

He added: “They will not be the magic solution to solving the backlog, and they must not be a barrier to those patients who need to be seen in person.”

A source close to Matt Hancock, the Health secretary, said on Saturday night: “Matt is very proud of how we hired thousands of former doctors and they have played a massive role already and there is a huge backlog to clear, especially in cancer [cases].”

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