NHS Pushes Recovery Plan In Elective Care To Skip Long Waits

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The National Health Services and the UK Government have gone on to set a blueprint which will address the backlogs built during the COVID-19 pandemic and thereby tackle the long term waits that have cropped up with enormous capacity expansion of tests and treatments.

Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of the NHS, and Sajid Javid, who happens to be the health and social secretary, have announced that the health service has plans to develop a dozen community diagnostic centres, which apparently will be part of the fresh elective care recovery plan.

The plan has been devised with expert contributions pouring in from a wide range of partners and thereby sets out an agenda on the road map of how the NHS will clear the elective care backlogs over the next three years. Apparently, there has been an official communication by Sir David Sloman, COO, NHS, and Sir James Mackey, National Director of Elective Recovery of NHS England and NHS Improvement to all departments, trusts, hospitals, and healthcare centres falling under the NHS gamut. Communication is all about a delivery plan by NHS so as to tackle the COVID backlog when it comes to elective care.

The points highlighted in the letter revolve around how, over the next three years, the NHS plans to recover and expand elective services. There is also a mention of 30% more elective activity by 2024–2025 than what was the case before. The letter points out the fact that there has to be a significant amount of upscaling in the capacity and skills of the NHS staff. It also states that the COVID-19 impact isn’t just limited to elective surgeries, but even mental health and the challenges in that area need to be paid heed to. All said and done, it is all about giving better outcomes to patients across their experience with the NHS. In the communication by the NHS, removing long waits of more than a year, reducing diagnostic waiting times, delivering faster cancer diagnostic standards and working in tandem with patient groups and stakeholders have all been elaborated upon. The letter also asks everyone to have a collective focus on better information to support patients, prioritise diagnosis and treatment, and go ahead with transforming the way patient care is perceived and pushed.

The above mentioned significant steps will also help patients get a greater amount of control over their own health and also offer them a better choice of where to get care from if they have been waiting too long to get treated.

Under the decided plan, specialist teams shall be deployed to assist patients when it comes to their surgeries, and the group of caregivers will also get instant access to the results of tests so that a quick resolution with faster clinical advice can be given.

The NHS has also confirmed that it will equip itself to deliver more procedures as well as scans across the longevity of the next three years, apparently nine million more tests by 2025. This entire arrangement shall mean that over the next three years, patients shall be offered 17 million more diagnostic tests which will be a capacity increase of a quarter as compared to what took place three years prior to the pandemic.

There is a strong possibility of more than 100 diagnostic centres being launched due to the increase in the capacity number on the back of the NHS. There is surely going to be an acceleration in the number of these so-called one-stop shops from last year, with a target of 66 being established across England by March end, which, by the way, will be 26 more than originally planned.

Significantly, new surgical hubs are also expected to be added to the already running 122 across England. This will help in making sure to reduce the waiting time unless people themselves choose to postpone it. All this will result in patients no longer waiting for their surgery for more than a year after March 2025.

The hubs must account for a high volume of routine surgeries so that patients can be seen more quickly, as well as create extra capacity so that any emergency case that arises from somewhere does not disrupt the daily schedule and cause chaos, resulting in cancellations or further delays.

The plan, which has been put into place by Royal Colleges and patient groups and health charities, brings to the fore how the staff of the NHS will make optimal use of government additional funding which has been initiated, particularly to focus on the COVID backlog. More importantly, staff at the NHS have been working extra hard to ensure the recovery of services even though there has been a significant rise in Omicron cases, sustained hospitalisations and staff absence due to the contracting of COVID. Besides, they have also been instrumental in rolling out eleven million booster doses since December 12.

The implemented plan will ensure that local innovations are expanded, as the NHS has already guaranteed increased investment in mental health and will also provide additional assistance in primary and community care services.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “As we move out of the Omicron wave the NHS is applying the same determination and ‘can do’ spirit we have displayed throughout the pandemic, to address backlogs in routine care that have inevitably built up, and reduce long waits.

“That cannot happen overnight but we are determined to make the best possible use of the additional investment and take the best from our pandemic response, including smarter use of digital care and flexible working between teams and trusts, while building this additional diagnostic capacity that will help to accelerate progress.

“As we have always said throughout the pandemic, it is vitally important that anybody who has health needs continues to come forward, so that staff can help you with the best options for your care”.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said: “The NHS is there for us all in our time of need, but the pandemic has put unprecedented strain on health workers and patients alike.

“Today we have launched the biggest catch-up programme in the history of the health service backed by unprecedented funding.

“These measures will make sure patients receive the right care, in the right place at the right time as we bust the COVID backlogs and recover from the pandemic.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Just as we came together to tackle the virus, now we must come together in a new national mission to fight what the virus has brought with it.

“We are absolutely committed to tackling the COVID backlog and building a health and social care system for the long term.

“Our COVID Backlog Recovery Plan will help the NHS reduce waiting times, give patients more control over their care, and harness innovative technology to free up staff time so they can care for more people up and down the country can get the treatment they need.

“This is a vital step in radically rethinking how our health service delivers operations, treatment and checks as we look beyond the pandemic and learn to live with COVID-19”.

The NHS shall deliver on the following parameters as well, apart from the existing clinical standards:

  • By March 2025, elective care wait times of more than a year will be eliminated.
  • After July 2022, nobody will wait more than 2 years in order to get elective treatment.
  • By April 2023, waits of more than 18 months will be eliminated.
  • Three-quarters of cancer suspects are diagnosed or ruled out within 28 days.

The idea is to deliver 30% more elective treatments by 2024–25 than what was taking place before the pandemic. Despite the fact that the NHS has treated more than 600,000 patients, staff have cared for a minimum of two people with other conditions for each patient, along with the virus throughout the pandemic. The opening of diagnostic centres in retail parks and shopping malls will allow patients to be tested closer to home while also reducing the number of visits by performing multiple tests with a single appointment. Notably, diagnostic expansion will mean that 95% of patients will receive tests in just six weeks from the referral. In terms of capacity, the increase will assist the NHS in meeting the target set out in the NHS annual planning guidance for December 2021. NHS England is up to its task of giving maximum patient benefit from the extra investment. While there are many doctors and nurses who are currently working for the NHS, the plan is to train, recruit, and retain staff.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said: “With the NHS under so much pressure it’s absolutely right that we take steps to ensure patients are able to get the treatment they need. This plan very clearly sets out what we need to do in the months and years ahead and although it may seem radical in parts, is nevertheless essential  if we are to reduce the backlog in elective care and ensure that those who are most sick are prioritised. By setting out in clear terms what patients can expect from the NHS and how they in turn can help, I hope it will also take some of the pressure off our hard-pressed health and care staff who are facing the most extraordinary workload and stress day-in, day-out”.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said: “Health leaders will welcome the national commitment to tackle the backlog of elective care. The NHS is working hard to prioritise patients with the greatest clinical need, including by carrying out 1.3m consultant-led treatments in a single month and we have seen some brilliant examples of innovation where data and technology have been used to both support patients and ramp up activity. While the NHS will continue to do everything it can, at least six million people are known to be on the waiting list and so, we need continued honesty about the scale of this challenge, particularly as coronavirus has not disappeared”.

Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England said: “The Elective Recovery Plan recognises that the NHS needs more surgical capacity – more operating theatres and more beds. Crucially, it supports our College’s recommendation to establish surgical hubs across the country, where planned operations are protected from winter pressures and outbreaks of COVID-19.  Surgical teams like our colleagues in Barking have shown tremendous commitment and creativity during the pandemic, adopting new ways of working and collaborating across hospitals to re-design surgical services. This plan recognises that we need to support and spread these innovations, and also invest in making surgical services more sustainable in the years ahead”.

Neil Tester, Director of The Richmond Group of national health and care charities said: “Tackling waiting lists quickly and well is a top priority for patients and the public, so it must be central for the NHS. An end to the physical and mental pain so many people suffer while waiting for treatment can’t come too soon, so it’s good to see this recovery plan identifying ways to speed up treatment at the same time as supporting and updating people while they wait. Making sure people get the right rehabilitation and aftercare will be vital too. Our member charities are committed to working with the NHS and care services to help get that support to people who need it, to making sure national and local decision-makers understand how the changes are affecting people’s experiences, and to helping these initiatives focus on tackling inequality”.

Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said: “We welcome the publication of this plan and look forward to working with NHS England on its implementation.  We also welcome NHS England’s commitment to work in partnership with patients to improve their experience of waiting for care and treatment, and how it communicates with patients waiting for care. This is something we have been calling on the NHS to do since the start of the pandemic. Today’s commitment meets many of our requests for how patients waiting for care, who are often in pain and discomfort, are told how long they will have to wait, are kept updated, and where and who from they can get the support and advice needed to keep themselves healthy while they wait. We hope that communication will be delivered in formats that suit individual patients, as not everybody has access to digital technology or knows how to use it. It is critical that as the NHS tackles the enormous backlog in care, it does not inadvertently increase health inequalities the pandemic has highlighted, by providing information and support that is not accessible to patients living disadvantaged lives.”

Jacob Lant, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Research at Healthwatch England said: “With six million people now waiting for treatment, this plan is very much needed. Given the scale of the backlog, most people understand that their treatment may be delayed. But while they wait, people want support if they need it, and to know that the NHS has not forgotten them.

“It’s great to see the NHS acting on the issues people have raised with us. If this plan is successful, it should make waiting more bearable, with improved access to help like pain relief, clearer communication about when patients can expect treatment and the ability to tell the NHS about changes in their condition”.

Dr Charlotte Augst, Chief Executive of National Voices, said: “Timely access to services is now the main concern people raise with our members, 190 charities working right across health and care. Our members and we at National Voices have worked closely with NHSE/I to ensure that people who wait can be well supported. From listening to people who wait we know that good communication, signposting and non clinical support all make a massive difference.

“We will need sustained investment in growing the workforce and overall capacity of the service to meet the health and care needs of people – but we also need to reshape how services are designed and delivered. We will work with the NHS to ensure that new service models, such as diagnostic and treatment hubs, are fully accessible and inclusive”.

Tracey Loftis, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at Versus Arthritis, said: “Long waits for treatment are having a big impact on the physical and mental health of people with arthritis. This recovery plan is urgently needed and marks an important step forward in tackling long waiting times.

“Whilst we welcome efforts to expand surgical capacity, and to give people more information, it will be crucial that people know when they will start to see the benefits.

“We want to work with the NHS and the Government to make sure the Elective Recovery Plan delivers for people with arthritis – helping to bring down waiting times for joint replacements as well as ensuring people receive effective communication and support”.