Is winter 2021 a ticking time bomb for the NHS?

Published: 7-Jul-2021

Most people will have heard about some sort of backlog within the NHS due to the pressures put on the organisation by the Covid-19 pandemic and overcoming that challenge has taken up a large proportion of its resources since March 2020

Just as we thought the NHS was able to get back to concentrating their efforts on routine appointments – up pop new variants raising their ugly heads, with the NHS back to fearing the worst. Thankfully, a successful and largely adopted vaccination programme has meant the number of people being admitted to hospital aren’t overbearing them with the amount coming through their doors, not like those seen at the height of the pandemic, and instead being a more manageable level, but Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer has said the rising cases will mean we will “definitely see more hospitalisations.”

The problem with even a manageable level is that these are just more additions which take NHS staff away from the essential everyday care of patients they were used to pre-Pandemic - but we know because of the backlog, normality (or whatever the nearest thing to a ‘new normal’ is) is actually a long way off, so each new spike or variant just ensures the backlog isn’t being chipped away at the rate hospitals would like them to be. This is going to be a long hard slog, and the NHS are going to need every bit of support it can gain during this time.

The recently departed former-Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently said that the NHS is “facing the biggest pressure in its history” which he states is because the backlog is potentially twice as big as previously feared. The waiting list across the NHS is already at a staggering 5.1 million people awaiting elective surgery, but it is estimated that a further 7.1 million new additions to the waiting list could be on the way – people who have held off seeking medical attention during the pandemic are the reason for this estimated influx. Other areas of hospitals and GP surgeries aren’t escaping these large numbers either – it is reported than people are catching different bugs and viruses due to their lack of usual social interchanges and interaction with objects of the wider world. The immune system hasn’t maintained it’s normal levels of fight against the outside world, as we have all been living in bubbles, trapped indoors – now the world is starting to open up again and people are moving about more freely, interacting with others – they’re getting ill.

1.5 million surgeries were postponed or cancelled in 2020 and it is expected that another 2.4 million will be cancelled by the end of 2021. NHS officials believe it could take up to five years to clear the backlog: but are traditional winter pressures being accounted for? Do winter pressures in addition to rising variants, a huge backlog and heightened pressure on staff’s physical and mental wellbeing which will no doubt lead to illness and staff shortages mean that Winter 2021 is a ticking time bomb?

The NHS has recruited an extra 5,600 doctors and 10,800 nurses since the beginning of the pandemic to try and cope with the extra demand. The Government has also pledged £7 billion in further funding – but is it enough if we have a bad winter, flu season takes hold, Covid cases rise once again and the NHS struggle to cope? Is the £7 billion going to be spent across the NHS, or just where it can be seen? These extra doctors and nurses have been invested in, but Global View have seen first-hand how underinvestment in areas which are key, but not considered key due to their manual nature can be underappreciated – it’s great having the extra doctors and nurses to try and cover the abundance of patients coming through the doors, but they’re of no use if the patients don’t make it to them – they can only treat what is in front of them.

We’ve seen the heightened appreciation of the work the Estates & Facilities teams do, during the last year. Patients need to be transported in a timely manner to ensure that even during a backlog, things are running smoothly and on schedule to the rescheduled plan. We hope for the sake of the NHS that non-clinical services are being considered in the role they play in helping to beat the backlog when funding is being allocated – even the most vital cogs only work how they’re supposed to when all cogs are working and functioning properly too, and come winter time, all cogs need to have seen help where needed.

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Together we can #BeatTheBacklog

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