Responding to the publication of the Health and Social Care Committee’s report, Clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic, Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research and the REAL Centre at the Health Foundation, said:

‘NHS staff are overstretched and exhausted having gone above and beyond throughout the pandemic. The coming weeks will be incredibly challenging for services struggling to manage growing demand alongside rising staff absences. Record-breaking hospital waiting lists are likely to get worse before they get better, and emergency departments are being stretched to their limits.  

‘The government needs to be realistic about the time and resources required to recover services. A credible recovery strategy is desperately needed, and it needs to be backed up by sufficient funding and staff. To get back to the 18 weeks standard for waiting times across the NHS would require almost 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 £10 billion to clearing the backlog, but this is considerably less than the £17bn we’ve estimated could be needed to meet the backlog in this parliament.

‘There isn’t a quick fix to recover NHS services. Hospitals and other providers will need support to innovate and improve, not punitive target driven direction from Whitehall. And it’s essential that the expected recovery plan does not exacerbate the existing inequalities within and between different parts of England. COVID-19 has already had a greater impact on the most deprived areas of the country, several of which have also seen the biggest growth in their waiting lists. Any solutions, such as relocating patients for treatment, must aim to address these disparities. 

‘While the public focus is understandably on hospitals, the recovery plan will need to address issues across the whole of the wider health and care system to relieve the current pressure on acute care. We urgently need to see more action to boost services in primary care and the community to help prevent people from becoming acutely ill in the first place. And more funding is needed for social care to enable more people to leave hospital promptly and keep them well at home.’

Media contact

Simon Perry
Simon.Perry@health.org.uk
020 7257 2093

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