NHS England has announced its latest measures to help hospitals tackle the COVID-19 backlog

NHS England

NHS England has announced its latest measures to help hospitals tackle the COVID-19 backlog over the next 6 months. The NHS operational planning guidance and funding covers emergency department waiting times, quicker patient discharges, and increasing elective procedures.

More booked accident and emergency appointments will be made through NHS 111. Staff mental health and wellbeing support is also being prioritised.

National Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis, said in a statement: ‘With more patients expected to come forward for care in the coming months and flu cases also expected to be high, this could be the NHS’ toughest winter yet, and staff will continue to work around the clock to make the best possible use of Government funding so patients receive care as quickly as possible.

‘Our plan for the next 6 months of the year will mean hospitals continue to do as many elective procedures as possible alongside dealing with this expected spike in winter demand.’

Inequalities 

The new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) opened for business today, with a focus on prevention and addressing health inequalities between deprived and better-off areas of England.

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, who will provide professional leadership to the OHID, said: ‘Health inequalities in England are stark and they are challenging to address, but it is important we do so.

‘People across the country can live in better health for longer. OHID will support people to do so with an evidence-based approach.

‘Reducing health inequalities and keeping people in better health for longer is in everyone’s interest—it is good for the individual, families, society, the economy, and NHS. That’s why OHID will work collaboratively across the national, regional, and local levels as well as with the NHS, academia, the third sector, scientists, researchers, and industry.’

Community diagnostic centres 

Also announced was the launch of 40 new community diagnostic centres in convenient locations away from hospitals, to allow GPs to make faster referrals for scans and diagnostic tests.

Some of the centres are already open, and others are expected to be fully operational by March 2022.

They were recommended by former NHS England National Cancer Director, Professor Sir Mike Richards, who said:‘The pandemic brought into sharper focus the need to overhaul the way we deliver diagnostic services, and so I am absolutely delighted to see one of the key recommendations of my report becoming a reality for patients so quickly.

‘I have no doubt that many people will benefit from these new NHS Community Diagnostic Centres, bringing together many tests in one convenient place.’

Health security 

Also from the beginning of October, the UK Health Security Agency becomes fully operational.

It takes on the health protection responsibilities of Public Health England, and incorporates NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

Staffing 

Alongside the NHS announcements, the Health Foundation released a report predicting that up to an extra 488,000 healthcare staff will be needed by 2030/31 to meet increasing demands, a rise of 40%.

Anita Charlesworth, the Health Foundation’s Director of Research, said: ‘If the Government doesn’t take action now to invest in the workforce, the NHS and social care system are likely to face a decade of increasing staff shortages—5.6 million people are already waiting for care, and the health service desperately needs more staff. Workforce shortages are the biggest risk to post-pandemic recovery. Despite the more immediate challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government must not lose sight of the underlying demand and cost pressures facing the NHS and social care over the long term, and the need to plan better to increase the workforce to meet this demand.’

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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