With Covid-19 leaving NHS staff 'on their knees', the government must set realistic clinical goals
People working in the NHS are exhausted and ‘on their knees’ from coping with the disruption wrought by Covid-19, and cannot simply be expected to snap back into action and deliver routine services once the worst effects have passed.
That is the stark message contained in a letter sent today to the prime minister by the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations that plan, commission and provide NHS services in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Layla McCay, the confederation’s director of policy, said: ‘Over the last year, health and care staff have worked tirelessly in response to an unprecedented global threat.
'While it is encouraging that cases of coronavirus are beginning to come down in England, it is from a very high point and the impact on staff and patient services has been colossal.’
Welcoming the government’s cautious approach over when the current nationwide lockdown would be eased, Dr McCay said it would be a ‘disaster’ for the NHS and the treatment backlog if another wave of the pandemic was unleashed.
‘Health leaders will continue to prioritise urgent care and patients with the greatest clinical need, but staff are on their knees and many of the pre-pandemic challenges are still very much at play.'
Unrealistic standards ... do nothing but demoralise NHS staff and perpetuate the misleading view that the service is failing [Layla McCay, Risk of further demoralising staff
The prime minister had to be ‘up front with the public’ over what the NHS can safely deliver in the coming months, she added.
‘This includes setting clear expectations on activity, allocating resources where they are needed most, and moving away from upholding unrealistic standards that will be impossible to deliver in the short-term.
‘These do nothing but demoralise NHS staff and perpetuate the misleading view that the service is failing.’
Staff will need time to recuperate
The letter says staff will need periods of ‘recuperation’ with time off to recover being made available so they can receive mental health support, for example.
It also calls for the suspension of the 52-week waiting time 'standard' for non-urgent treatments. This should be replaced with a more ‘patient-centred approach’ that enables the NHS to focus on clinical need and avoids enforcing unattainable expectations on the NHS.
This standard was introduced in 2010 when the list contained more than 20,800 patients. By contrast, last November about 192,000 people had waited more than 52 weeks to receive planned routine surgery, compared to about 1,600 people a year ago.
The overall NHS waiting list in England stands at 4.46 million people and this is predicted to have worsened when the next monthly performance figures are released on 11 February.
To see the letter in full, visit: https://www.nhsconfed.org/resources/2021/02/letter-to-the-prime-minister-about-nhs-recovery-priorities
Author: Ian A McMillan