The government must be realistic about the time and resources needed to clear the NHS backlog

In response to the publication of the report of the health and social commission, Reduce the backlog caused by the pandemic, Anita Charlesworth, director of research and the REAL Center at the Health Foundation, said:

“NHS staff are overwhelmed and exhausted after scrambling throughout the pandemic. The coming weeks will be incredibly difficult for departments struggling to cope with growing demand along with increasing staff absences. Record hospital waiting lists are likely to worsen before they improve, and emergency services are stretched to the limit.

“The government needs to be realistic about the time and resources it takes to get the services back. A credible recovery strategy is desperately needed, and it must be supported by sufficient funding and staff. Going back to the 18-week standard for NHS wait times would require nearly 19,000 more nurses and over 4,000 more doctors, but there is no staffing plan for the NHS. The government has committed a total of £ 10bn to clear the backlog, but that is considerably less than the £ 17bn we estimated might be needed to clear the backlog in this parliament.

“There is no silver bullet to getting NHS services back. Hospitals and other providers will need support to innovate and improve, not the punitive, goal-oriented orientation of Whitehall. And it is essential that the expected stimulus package does not exacerbate existing inequalities within and between different parts of England. COVID-19 has already had a greater impact on the most disadvantaged areas of the country, several of which have also seen the greatest growth in their waiting lists. Any solution, such as relocating patients for treatment, must aim to address these disparities.

“While the public will naturally focus on hospitals, the stimulus package will need to address issues across the broader health and care system to relieve the current pressure on acute care. We urgently need to see more action to strengthen primary care services and the community to help prevent people from becoming seriously ill in the first place. And more funds are needed for social care to allow more people to leave hospital quickly and keep them well at home.

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