By Joachim Werr, Steve Laitner and Matthew Cooke
The number of patients waiting to start elective treatment grew to a record 6.4 million in March. This number could yet grow larger – and could reach 13 million according to Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
It’s not just elective treatment facing a lengthy backlog. Services across health and social care are facing increased demand with cancer treatments and A&E similarly affected. Once you add in a further 30% increase in chronic disease prevalence expected in the coming years, driven primarily by an ageing population and dementia, falls, and cardiovascular disease, the picture begins to look even more bleak.
The key issues facing the NHS and social care are well-publicised. Workforce is a top concern for NHS trusts across the country, with staffing challenges now as pressing as the financial challenge. All of this makes the Govt’s Build Back Better ambition to increase NHS elective care output by 30% within 3 years, all the more challenging. By way of context, in 2015-20, NHS elective output grew 14.8%.
To stress the workforce point, the NHS currently has a staggering 110,000 unfilled posts – including 40,000 nurses and 8,000 doctors. The Kings Fund recently concluded that “…the workforce crisis will be the key limiting factor on efforts to boost NHS activity and tackle the rising backlog of care.” So while ambition is important, we must note that health workers cannot be cloned and we are fast running out of time to increase the workforce. The Health Foundation recently estimated an extra 488,000 health workers and 627,000 social care workers will be needed in 2030/31, a 40% and 55% increase in staff from today and more than double the growth seen in the last decade. https://www.health.org.uk/publications/health-and-social-care-funding-projections-2021
How can the NHS increase its capacity to meet this tsunami of NHS care demand?
It’s clear from the myriad challenges facing the NHS and social care that NHS demand vs supply equation cannot be solved without radical change and service redesign.
As the authors of this blog post, our experience spans the breadth of the health service including emergency and primary care, quality control, academia, public health and technology innovation. Coming together to assess this vast challenge, we identified four areas for the radical change we believe is needed:
There’s little doubt that it will take time to redesign and implement new ways of working in order to make a great impact. But we must act now in order to stem the tide of rising demand, and support the health service and social care to provide high-quality and sustainable healthcare to the patients for the years ahead.