NHS facing 'Covid-19 triple whammy', report warns

29 September 2020, 00:50 | Updated: 29 September 2020, 01:05

The NHS is facing a "triple whammy" of threats caused by the coronavirus pandemic
The NHS is facing a "triple whammy" of threats caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The NHS is facing a "triple whammy" of threats caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a report has warned.

England's health service is coping with three different challenges linked to the outbreak of Covid-19, according to the NHS Confederation.

They include: dealing with local outbreaks and a second surge of cases; attempting to manage a "huge backlog" of people needing care with "exhausted" staff; and coping with reduced capacity due to infection control measures.

The confederation's latest report - called NHS Reset - explains the problems faced by the National Health Service and how the system should progress following the pandemic.

It suggests a "reassessment" of what the service can realistically be expected to deliver and that the "road to recovery will be long".

"The NHS went into the pandemic under significant pressure, with demand for care outstripping the service's ability to meet key performance targets," the authors wrote.

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"The service is now facing a triple whammy. It must deal with local outbreaks and a second surge. It has to manage a huge backlog of treatment that has built up during the pandemic. And it must do this and restore services with reduced capacity as a result of infection control measures.

"On top of this, leaders are reporting that some staff who have been in the thick of this battle are exhausted. There is unlikely to be much respite before winter."

More than 250 NHS leaders were surveyed in the report which found that most are concerned about targets to resume routine operations.

Almost three quarters (74%) said they are not confident their services will be able to meet targets to bring back routine operations to "near-normal" levels by the end of October.

The authors warn that while the NHS has made huge progress to restore services towards pre-pandemic levels, the impact of Covid-19 is likely to have an effect on NHS capacity for "several years".

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The NHS Confederation said the disruption caused by the pandemic must lead to a transformation of the health service.

Changes that would have previously taken years have been delivered in weeks, it added.

The health service has come up with solutions to treat patients and the report calls for the innovation to be sustained by stripping away "unnecessary bureaucracy" in the NHS.

It says the service needs government investment to support new ways of working to restore services.

Additional funding will also be needed to cover the additional costs of rising demand as well as enabling the NHS to "play catch up" with the backlog of treatment, it added.

Only 8% of NHS leaders surveyed said their current funding allows them to deliver safe and effective services.

The report also calls for the understanding of the public while the NHS deals with the "large backlog" of patients needing care.

There must also be action to tackle health inequalities, which have been "exacerbated" by the pandemic, the report adds, while the integration of health and care is "crucial".

NHS Confederation chief executive Danny Mortimer said: "No-one can be in any doubt that the road to recovery for the NHS and social care services 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.

"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 reimagined 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% believe the NHS must deliver a step change in how it cares for diverse and marginalised communities.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "We are committed to supporting the NHS to respond to the pandemic and safely restore services.

"In July, the chancellor announced an extra £31.9 billion for health services, plus an additional £16.4 billion last week to tackle coronavirus and will continue to provide the NHS with the funding it needs. This is on top of a record cash funding boost of £33.9 billion extra a year for the NHS by 2023/24.

"We've asked health and care staff for their views on changes seen during the pandemic which should be continued, and where unnecessary bureaucracy can be cut, so they can focus on providing safe, high-quality care."

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