Stephen Boyle reflects on why the NHS must change its operating model to address the backlog of care. He explains how healthcare systems can unlock hidden minutes that add up to make a significant difference to bed availability and patient flow.
It is true that over the year 2020 and into 2021, the NHS has evolved. The NHS dealt with the first COVID-19 wave by switching all of its focus to deal with the virus and nothing else – rightly so. Post the first wave, the NHS quickly re-established some (but not all) services and activity. In the second wave, the NHS managed COVID-19 while maintaining key services and increasing activity, but the ‘Kent’ variant of COVID-19, in late November 2020, saw another profound impact on services. Right now, it very much feels like the NHS is moving on to managing COVID-19 and resetting services back towards normal activity levels. However, the next few months look challenging
Commenting on NHS hospital performance data, published in August 2021, Deborah Ward, senior analyst at The King’s Fund, warned: “The waiting list for routine NHS care has ballooned to levels not seen since the early 2000s, and now stands at over 5.4 million and with the potential for many more people who weren’t referred during the pandemic to come forward for treatment, this list will continue to grow. The number of people waiting two years or more for planned care has also rocketed to nearly 6000; people who will be living with conditions that potentially limit their lives while they wait.
Demand for emergency services has also returned to pre-pandemic levels with 2.2 million people attending A&E in July and over 1 million calls to the ambulance service last month. NHS hospitals face competing demands for their limited resources and a coherent national strategy for balancing these pressures is urgently needed ahead of winter.”
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