A Guide to Successful NHS Elective Care in Winter 2021

Nov 3, 2021.

Covid 19 isn’t going away and with infection rates fluctuating, a seemingly inevitable second wave and doctors exhausted from fighting the first round of the virus – there’s a significant backlog of patients waiting to receive essential NHS elective care.

In Simon Stevens’ recent letter outlining the 6 Steps to the Road to Recovery, the NHS has a clear agenda to resume focus on treating all healthcare needs. However, this will of course, require a lot of planning, preparation and external support to ensure each trust strikes a right balance between providing care to patients whilst prioritising the needs of their staff who provide that care…

…Which is why we want to share how focusing on expanding the workforce, reconfiguring services and providing support to all can help NHS elective care services through the upcoming Winter of 2021/22.

What was the impact of Covid 19 on the NHS?

Before Covid 19 was even a word, the NHS was facing immense pressure resultant of increased service users, over 100,000 vacancies and a lack of government funding.

NHS trusts were then quickly forced to adapt to focus on fighting the virus, treating patients with symptoms and pausing all non-essential treatment to prevent the spread of the virus. Although this approach was successful and the number of cases and deaths has reduced significantly, reports reveal that there has been an unprecedented drop in the number of people visiting their GP services, A&E and mental health services – which has had a severe impact on those living with cancer, heart problems or other serious healthcare conditions.

Furthermore, the most recent NHS data shares that there are in fact 15 million patients on waiting lists for NHS elective care appointments, compared to the previously published 10 million… which of course, increases the pressure that will be put on the service even greater.

For the NHS to successfully ensure all 15 million patients are treated and cared for during Winter 2021/22, we recommend the following considerations:

  • An enhanced workforce capacity
  • Reconfiguration of services
  • Increased and ongoing support to all NHS staff

Enhanced Workforce Capacity

The pandemic hit the NHS at the end of one the most challenging winters in time. With staff already exhausted from the difficult and demanding period, at the peak of the crisis – with 1 in 4 doctors self-isolating or off due to sickness or fatigue – the urgent need to resume to business as usual, if not done correctly will lead to the inevitable… staff burnout.

One way to ensure patients still receive access to excellent NHS elective care efficiently whilst protecting the health needs of all NHS staff, is to promote and motivate all permanent and full-time staff to take annual leave to rest, recuperate and essentially take respite care.  

Naturally, this may raise alarm bells as to how the hospital will maintain their roster and ensure they have the correct staffing levels, but this is where locum staff comes in. The purpose of a locum agency is to provide healthcare settings with healthcare staff in emergencies and to fill gaps as a result of annual leave, maternity, paternity or sickness – so, why not use the resources that are available? That way, your permanent staff receive the well-deserved rest, your patients get cared for and your waiting lists significantly reduce.

Reconfigure Services

When Covid 19 reached the UK, trusts repurposed wards, theatres, large spaces into Covid 19 units of which patients could receive extra ventilator support – if necessary. All staff who were healthy and available to work were redeployed to care for patients outside of their usual specialties.

Without trusts adapting quickly and flexibly, patients would have had to been denied care – which of course, is against the NHS purpose and its’ seven principles. However, now that elective care is back on the agenda, trusts will need to still accommodate for Covid 19 patients, resume spaces back to their elective purpose, uphold social distancing and provide excellent but efficient care to patients…

Although this may seem complex to action, there are three solutions available: insourcing, outsourcing and digitised services. If a trust chooses to insource, they can employ a third-party organisation to come into the hospital and support their current workforce, simply acting as an extension to their existing team. However, of course – this means increased footfall within the hospital and possible risk of the virus spreading and so, they could always outsource to a third-party of which clinics will be performed at an alternative premises to the trust.

Finally, if the trust wants to completely reduce the number of patients being physically seen for their NHS elective care appointments, they could always outsource digitised services including, virtual consultations and virtual triage assessments.

If an NHS trust successfully reconfigures their services, they can guarantee better co-ordinated care whilst upholding the need to protect staff and socially distance patients.

Increased and Ongoing Support to NHS Staff

Finally, with most NHS staff being redeployed to care for Covid patients – the requirement for them to be physically protected from the virus was critical. However, much to our dismay PPE presented itself as a constant issue throughout the pandemic.

At one stage, unfortunately, not all healthcare professionals had access to adequate PPE including gowns, masks and clinical visors allowing them to work safely. Unfortunately, this lead to staff being infected, needing to self-isolate and a reduction in the workforces’ capacity.

In order to successfully normalise services and give the 15 million patients the care that they need – the UK government cannot slack on the amount of PPE available to their staff, especially as a second wave is due, it could simply cause the whole service to collapse.

In addition to making it a physically safe environment for NHS staff,  it’s also precarious to protect the wellbeing of NHS staff providing the care. Yes, the NHS successfully managed Covid 19 in its first wave, however, this was an unparallelled challenge for healthcare professionals – with stress, pressure, the inability to see family and friends and the daily fear of working amongst the virus is a lot and unfortunately, the work does not stop here.

With winter fast approaching, it’s going to be essential for all NHS trusts to truly step up and take responsibility for their staff’s wellbeing. This could include well-being programmes, meditation sessions, fitness challenges, mentor programmes, bike to work days and free counselling– the list is endless. But with NHS staff knowing that there employer is there to support them, not only will this improve employee engagement, retention and help those 15 million patients to be treated and care for quickly and efficiently.

Get in Touch with ID Medical today

If your NHS trust is interested in going digital to help alleviate the stress on your staff and NHS elective care services, we can support you with an all-encompassing solution: digital consultations, clinics and triage assessments to suit your individual trusts needs.

In the last 12-months, we’ve treated over 13,000 patients and IDMCS are immensely proud of our overall 97% patient satisfaction feedback score.

Want to know more? We’d be delighted to speak with you – just give us a call on 01908 552 820 and we’ll be happy to help.

Learn more about our Outsourcing Services by hitting this link