‘Brutal impact of Covid-19 on our healthcare services has been laid bare’ – BMA

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Hartlepool Hospital workers fighting for their return of NHS services

NHS STATISTICS highlight the ‘brutal impact’ of Covid-19 on healthcare services and patient care, doctor’s union the BMA said.

Responding to the latest NHS performance statistics, which show a significant drop in the number of GP referrals for cancer treatment and specialist care, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘These NHS performance figures lay bare the brutal impact of Covid-19 on our healthcare services and patient care.
‘They show only the early weeks of the pandemic but nonetheless, they confirm the fears of doctors that significant numbers of patients will not have received the care needed and that their conditions could have worsened.
‘The shocking drop in the number of GP referrals for cancer treatment – down 60 per cent from last year, and GP referrals to specialist care – down three quarters from last year, is incredibly concerning.
‘It is, therefore, vital that services resume as soon as possible and that the government provides the NHS with the support, resources and capacity for this to happen safely whilst the pandemic continues.
‘The longer the backlog persists, patients’ conditions will grow more acute or go undiagnosed.
‘Doctors have expressed growing concern with the findings of a recent BMA survey revealing that almost a third of doctors said the impact of Covid-19 was significantly worsening care for non-Covid patients.
‘The staggering reduction in patients attending A&E is of great concern, meaning that patients with emergencies are not being treated at a time when overall excess mortality in the UK is amongst the highest in Europe.
‘Worryingly, more than two thirds of doctors who responded to a recent BMA survey said they had either little or no confidence that the expected demand could be properly managed.
‘As such, we need meaningful conversations between government and frontline clinicians about how we can, together, begin to tackle the backlog. This will require transparency around capacity and the workforce crisis, and the need to invest in infrastructure that can meet the healthcare needs of patients.
‘The government must also commit to publishing comprehensive and timely data, including the datasets which have been paused throughout Covid-19, and provide a clear picture of the state of the workforce which will be crucial going forward.’
Mike Adams, Royal College of Nursing Director for England, said: ‘The figures from the NHS in England show more people started to return to A&E last month. But getting A&E back to full strength again is going to take careful planning.
‘Our joint trade union blueprint summarises important considerations, such as physical distancing measures like those used in supermarkets.
‘However, one of the biggest problems in getting all hospital services up and running again is going to be having enough trained staff.
‘Many are physically and mentally exhausted from dealing with the virus, and the NHS in England alone had almost 40,000 nursing vacancies when the pandemic struck.
‘Investment in the nursing workforce has to be a priority.
‘This includes increasing supply through higher education funding, clear accountability in government and throughout the health system for workforce planning and a range of support for our current workforce to ensure they feel valued.’
Responding to the National Audit Office report on the readiness of the NHS and social care in England, Susan Masters, RCN Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice, said: ‘Without the extraordinary efforts of nursing staff across health and social care, the impact of Covid-19 could have been worse.
‘But this report shows nursing staff were let down by a system ill-prepared to tackle this pandemic.
‘Our members in working communities, care homes or hospitals, who have had trouble accessing the necessary protective equipment to keep them and their patients safe, will be alarmed to see that a vital opportunity to stockpile adequate equipment was missed.
‘Years of under-investment means social care was left exposed.
‘As we emerge from this pandemic, it’s important the government learns from these mistakes so nursing staff can provide the best quality care going forwards.’
Urgent cancer referrals have seen a 60 per cent drop in numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic, new figures show.
NHS England statistics show there 79,573 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in April 2020, down from 199,217 in April 2019.
Breast cancer referrals were among the hardest hit, down from 16,753 in April 2019 to 3,759 in April 2020, a fall of 78 per cent.
And the number of people in England who had to wait more than two months for a GP referral to their first treatment for cancer dropped by 20 per cent, from 13,519 in April 2019 to 10,792 in April 2020.
The latest statistics released by NHS England also show:

  • The number of patients admitted for routine treatment in hospital in England was down by 85 per cent, from 280,209 in April 2019 to 41,121 in April 2020.
  • A&E attendances were down from 2.2m in May 2019 to 1.3m in May 2020 – a drop of 42 per cent.
  • The year-on-year drop in A&E attendances of 42 per cent in May compares with a fall of 57 per cent recorded in April.
  • The number of people having to wait more than 18 weeks to start treatment rose to 1.13 million, almost double the number in April 2019 (579,403) and the highest number for any calendar month since January 2008.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, said the figures showed there was a ‘backlog’ of tens of thousands of cancer patients who need treatment.
She said: ‘Patients need to know that cancer hospitals are a safe place to go, and that’s why we are calling for the government and the NHS to make this happen as quickly as possible.’
Woolnough added there had been signs of recovery since April and signs that patients are starting to contact their GPs again for telephone and online appointments.
‘This is incredibly important and we continue to urge people to speak to their doctor if they are worried about potential cancer symptoms or have questions about their care,’ she said.
Professor Peter Johnson, NHS national clinical director for cancer, said: ‘Lives are saved if more people are referred for checks, so my message to anyone who has a worrying symptom is: the NHS is here for you and can provide safe checks and treatment if you need it, so please help us help you, and get in touch with your local GP like you usually would.’
Meanwhile, a severe lack of funding leaves 51% of Scottish dental practices ‘vulnerable’ after the lockdown due to the coronavirus.
More than half (57%) of practices say they would consider remaining closed after Covid-19 if a more viable SDR (Statement of Dental Remuneration) funding model was not agreed.
That’s according to a poll carried out by the Scottish Dental Practice Owners (SDPO) Facebook group. It asked 327 practice owners questions about the government and NHS Scotland’s handling of dentistry during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Results also show that 51% don’t believe they would be financially viable with the current funding model going into the next ‘return to work’ phase.
‘Whilst other healthcare sectors have been given 100% of their funding plus subsidies to set up for Covid safety measures, NHS dentistry has seen its funding cut to 80% with no subsidies,’ a spokesperson for the SDPO group told Dentistry Online.
‘Dental practices were closed without consultation. They will only reopen for face-to-face triaging. At a maximum of 10 patients per day (as per the SG restrictions, PPE is being supplied for these 10 patients).
‘This means patients will still be in the situation they are in now. Many left in pain or will lose teeth that we could otherwise save. Many will continue to have repeated antibiotics. It will almost be impossible to catch up with the backlog of patients from the past 11 weeks.
‘UDCs (Urgent Dental Care centres) promised weeks ago still have not opened. It is a struggle to get patients seen in many health boards for aerosol generating procedures (AGPS).’
The poll also shows that 85% of Scottish practice owners feel NHS Scotland is compromising patient care during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Respondents believe not allowing dentists to see patients for dental emergencies (non-AGPs) during Covid-19 is compromising care. And more than half (57%) say they are unsatisfied with the Chief Dental Officer’s handling of dentistry during the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Most dental practices cannot survive on this current funding model on opening,’ the SDPO spokesperson continued.
‘As payment holidays end, staff are unfurloughed and the costs of consumables increase.
‘If we were given the same 100% funding as other healthcare sectors such as optometrists, pharmacists and GPs, we would have a greater chance of survival. As is stands, approximately 50 % of dental practices fear they will close. This would leave half of the population without a dentist resulting in a dental crisis.
‘With extra PPE supplied to individual dental practices there would be no need for UDCs at all. It is dentists from these NHS practices helping to man the UDCs.’
Last month Tom Ferris, Chief Dental Officer for Scotland, unveiled Scotland’s steps to get the profession back to work. The three-phase plan focuses on the remobilisation of NHS dental services in Scotland.
‘We need to take into consideration the added risk of aerosol-generating procedures on Covid-19 transmission,’ Ferris writes. ‘The availability of appropriate PPE is also a major consideration in how we shape the recovery and mobilise NHS dental services.’
The poll also asked questions about the current funding model for NHS dentistry in Scotland.
All of the respondents (100%) don’t believe the current SDR allows practices to offer the latest technology, equipment and materials to patients. And more than half (52%) say their commitment to NHS dentistry is dependent on an updated SDR package.
Worryingly, 83% of practice owners say the current contract is having a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of NHS dentists.