The health service could use this summer to make significant inroads in tackling the huge and growing waiting list backlog if major investment was made available and NHS organisations had quicker and easier access to funding to build pop up clinics to see more patients.
In a letter to the health secretary Matt Hancock, health leaders are calling for the NHS to be given the necessary tools to grasp a ‘summer of opportunity’ and ramp up their ability to see as many patients as possible over the coming months.
NHS leaders are also keen to see a review of social distancing measures in hospitals as COVID-19 cases come down so as to ‘free up significant operational capacity across the NHS’.
The letter sets out five important solutions which NHS Confederation members say would allow the health service to use the coming months to treat thousands more patients and make a significant dent in the vast waiting list which has built up as a result of the pandemic and now tops 4.7million people.
The key actions include:
- Lifting accounting rules and providing NHS organisations with extra easy access to capital funding so that hospitals can, for example, create red and green zones for patients according to how infectious they are, as well as setting up rapid high volume elective care clinics.
- Reviewing stringent infection control guidance to reduce the need for social distancing and safely increase the number of patients coming into healthcare settings for treatment.
- Investing in staff time and education to allow many more patients to have elective surgery, including training up extra theatre staff, recruiting skilled waiting list management employees and investing in the local elective call centre workforce to help effectively manage patient communications and field calls from understandably anxious patients.
- Maintaining light touch regulation, so that access to more funding is not undermined by over-complicated daily reporting or other unnecessary assurance that gets in the way of delivering care.
- Continuing to address and drive down health inequalities so that complex health needs are not missed because of the focus on ‘high volume, low cost’ treatment.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Given extra investment and easy access to capital funding the health service can continue to get more patients back through its doors and really start to ramp up how many people it sees and treats over the summer months.
“A quicker and more simple way of being able to use the funding available to set up elective pop-up clinics that can treat patients safely and efficiently would help the health service to continue to tackle the waiting list backlog.
“Healthcare leaders also welcome the review of infection prevention and control measures. As COVID-19 cases have declined dramatically and with over half of the adult population vaccinated now is the right time to look again at some of the rules including on social distancing and how PPE is used in order to help free up extra capacity across the NHS.”