NHS faces a 'triple whammy' this winter, report warns

NHS faces a ‘triple whammy’ this winter of a surge in coronavirus patients, backlog of operations and reduced capacity, report warns

  • NHS Confederation called on the Government to ‘grasp the nettle’ and invest
  • It said the lockdown had knocked delivery of health services back ‘by years’
  • Survey of 252 trust leaders revealed nine in ten felt they had inadequate funding
  • Report urged ministers to ‘lock in’ some changes made during the pandemic

The NHS will be hit by a ‘triple whammy’ this winter, according to a report that warns the ‘road to recovery will be long’.

Health bosses say the system will be left creaking from a surge in Covid-19 patients, alongside a ‘huge’ backlog of delayed treatment, as well as ‘exhausted’ staff battling against reduced capacity due to infection control measures. 

The NHS Confederation, which represents the majority of hospital trusts, ambulance services, clinical commissioning groups and other healthcare providers in the UK, warned demand has ‘outstripped’ supply and that many doctors and nurses are already ‘exhausted’ by the pressures of this year, with no respite in sight. 

It called on the Government to ‘grasp the nettle’ and invest in a fully integrated health and care system.

Its survey of 252 NHS leaders revealed nine in ten felt they did not have enough funding to hit their performance targets – or even upgrade buildings, IT and other infrastructure to improve services. 

They warned the pandemic has set the health service back ‘by years’ in their report – titled NHS Reset – and urged ministers to ‘lock in’ changes made in response to the crisis that cut out ‘needless bureaucracy’ and snipped red tape. 

Hospital trusts were ordered to get services back to 90 per cent of capacity by mid-October, but with staff absences due to testing problems and mounting demands as a ‘double whammy’ of coronavirus and flu hits A&E departments, bosses fear the ambitious goal will not be met.

The NHS receives funding through its 2018-signed five-year plan – at £20.5billion annually – but hospital leaders warned this budget needs to be expanded to help the health services ‘play catch up’ on appointments missed due to lockdown.

Boris Johnson has pledged an extra £3billion to the NHS for winter, which has been earmarked for maintaining Nightingale hospitals and increasing testing capacity.

The NHS Confederation urged the Government to ‘grasp the nettle’ and invest in a fully integrated health and care system. (Pictured: Ward on Liverpool hospital)

One in 50 NHS patients have now been waiting a year or more for planned surgery. The number of those waiting for elective ops for more than 18 weeks is at a 12-year high, with more than two million Britons now overdue

NHS surgeons are only working at 50% capacity because of Covid-19 

NHS surgeons are only working at around 50 per cent capacity in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite record numbers of people on the waiting list for routine treatment. 

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the the Royal College of Surgeons, revealed surgeons ‘didn’t have much to do’ during the lockdown, as routine operations were cancelled to make room for an expected swarm of Covid-19 patients.

But they are struggling to get back to pre-coronavirus activity levels, despite barely any infected patients being in hospital. Surgeons say infection control measures and a lack of testing have left them unable to attack the backlog.  

Professor Mortensen told The Telegraph: ‘Most surgeons would say productivity is around half what it was before.’

He told the newspaper that there were obstacles in restoring services to levels seen before Covid-19, which experts say is needed to clear the backlog. Health bosses fear up to 10million patients will be left waiting for treatment by this winter.

A lack of routine testing for NHS staff is hindering efforts to create ‘Covid-free’ zones in hospitals, he said.

And doctors have previously warned social distancing in hospitals will mean fewer patients can be admitted at any given time.

The NHS Confederation says in its report many changes recently made should be locked in, including handing more control to local NHS leaders, accelerating steps to integrate health and social care, and making available sustained funding to tackle health inequalities that have been exacerbated by the virus.

It also called on political leaders to be honest and realistic with the public about waiting times and treatments in A&E departments.

One in 50 NHS patients have now been waiting a year or more for planned surgery treatments due to delays caused by coronavirus, NHS data reveals.

It shows 83,000 patients (2.1 per cent of the total) referred for routine operations still have not been treated 52 weeks later. This includes those waiting for planned, non-urgent surgery such as hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery or kidney stone removal.

The number of people waiting for operations for more than 18 weeks also hit a 12-year high, with more than two million Britons now long overdue. There are more than four million people currently waiting for elective surgery in the UK.

The NHS Confederation’s survey laid bare the fears at the top of the NHS, with 74 per cent of those surveyed saying they are not confident their services will meet the national targets to bring routine operation levels back to near-normal by October.

Just eight per cent said they felt their current funding allowed them to deliver safe and effective services.

NHS Confederation chief executive Danny Mortimer warned that the road to recovery for the NHS and social care ‘will be long’. 

‘Despite dire predictions that it would not be able to cope, the NHS has not only managed a huge wave of Covid-19 patients but also continued to treat millions not infected with the virus,’ he said.

‘We have learned much and are in a better position to manage the virus than first time round, despite still not having an effective test and trace system. 

‘The strain will continue to be felt across the country, but we must take this opportunity to recast services for the long-term benefit of patients and local communities.’

Lord Victor Adebowale, chairman of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘Covid-19 has been the biggest disruptor in the NHS’s history. Out of necessity, it has transformed patient services in ways previously unimagined and changes that would usually take years have been delivered in weeks.

‘This is the moment for Government to grasp the nettle, be bold and invest in a health and care system not just for this winter but for the long term.

‘It must be re-imagined in a way that lets local leaders deliver services that work for everyone in their communities.

‘Above all, we need to see a radical and conscious shift in every part of the country towards tackling health inequalities. If there is one lesson from the pandemic, it is that our universal health service does not care for everyone equally.’

The survey of NHS leaders found that 84 per cent believe the NHS must deliver a step change in how it cares for diverse and marginalised communities.

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