THE NHS BACKLOG is ‘dangerously close’ to crippling our health service as waiting times hit a record high, doctors’ union the BMA has warned.
Responding to the latest NHS performance figures, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘The figures are not just numbers on a spreadsheet, but real people in pain, distressed at not knowing when they will be able to receive the care they need.
‘It’s positive that the number of people waiting more than a year for treatment has slightly fallen, but there are still 382,264 more people waiting more than a year than there were pre-pandemic. The current figure is a 389-fold increase on the 1,613 people who were waiting over a year in February 2020, which is not at the standard that doctors want to provide.
‘For the first time ever, 5.12 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of April 2021 – our strongest indicator yet that the immense backlog of care is dangerously close to crippling our health service if government doesn’t give it the support it needs.
‘Although Covid-19 hospital admissions remain low across England – and this has freed up valuable time for staff to begin addressing the backlog – we are starting to see a resurgence in some areas.
‘With the NHS at capacity, even small increases in Covid admissions could significantly undermine hospitals’ ability to tackle this backlog, further exhausting staff who are already on their knees after a devastating year of fighting the pandemic.
‘The situation in emergency departments is also dire. After a decline in demand during the peak of the pandemic, staff are now facing the return of pre-Covid levels of A&E attendance – a total of 2.08 million attendances were recorded in May 2021, up from 1.26 million in May 2020. The impact of this is evident, with both four and 12-hour trolley waits increasing – by 18% for 4 hour and 33% for 12 hour – since last month.
‘All doctors want to do is see and treat their patients, but we can’t do this effectively without government honesty about the backlog and support in helping the NHS cautiously resume non-Covid care to allow staff time to rest and recover.
‘Just this week, MPs warned that NHS and social care staff burnout has reached an “emergency” level, alongside countless BMA surveys demonstrating that thousands of overworked doctors are considering leaving the health service because of a lack of respite from the pandemic – something that will only get worse as the backlog grows.
‘We need to see immediate investment in the workforce to halt the exodus and to allow the NHS to cope with existing and future demand – including through staffing legislation mandating regular NHS workforce assessment in the forthcoming Health and Care Bill.
‘Government must confront the fact that the NHS is in dire straits and act. Our health service has pulled us through a once-in-a-generation crisis, but is now facing another of equal magnitude without the same resilience as before. If this warning light continues to go unaddressed, we risk jeopardising the care of millions of patients.’
RCN Acting General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: ‘These figures, showing more than five million waiting for treatment in some cases, demonstrate the immense task ahead of nursing staff, many of whom are burned out, and health and care services.
‘Patient care needs to be at the centre of the plan to recover from Covid-19 but it can’t come at the expense of nursing staff and their wellbeing.
‘With tens of thousands of vacancies in the NHS in England alone, the Health Secretary needs to take urgent action to address chronic workforce shortages that pose a risk to the safety of our patients.
‘In the short term, a significant pay rise would help retain experienced nursing staff whom health services can’t afford to lose with this challenge ahead. But, we need better workforce planning for years to come.
‘The forthcoming Health and Social Care Integration bill provides an important opportunity to address this by making population-based workforce assessments and overall safe staffing levels of the whole health and care system a legal duty for the Health Secretary.’
- A pioneering new device to help doctors and nurses communicate clearly whilst wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) has been developed and sucessfully trialled by Leicester academics in collaboration with Formula One racing engineers.
Head-to-toe PPE worn by medical staff treating patients with Covid-19 and other infectious diseases has meant that doctors and nurses regularly have to shout to be heard, which is not only exhausting, but can cause errors of miscommunication which could potentially harm patients.
Tim Coats, a Professor of Emergency Medicine and Associate Dean for Clinical Data Science at the University of Leicester, and consultant in emergency medicine at Leicester’s Hospitals, has created the MedicCom in collaboration with the not-for-profit group Project Pitlane.
The prototype MedicCom design, supported by KTN and funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Innovate UK, uses a throat microphone to pick up and amplify sound, which enables patients to better hear the medical staff caring for them.
The same function also allows doctors and nurses to hear each other much more clearly, whilst a Bluetooth connection links to a mobile phone, enabling the doctor or nurse to hold a clear telephone conversation with the patient’s relatives.
Professor Coats said: ‘Even if someone is standing next to you, if you’re head-to-toe in PPE, you have to be shouting to be able to hear one another.
‘Not only is that exhausting, but we know that this can cause errors of miscommunication which could potentially harm patients.
‘Good communication has a profoundly positive effect on patient care, and that is why we started work on a solution.
‘Working with the F1 engineers has been brilliant.
‘We’ve been able to use their expertise in advanced electrical engineering and their facilities for rapid prototyping to produce in six months a device which would normally take years.’
The prototype devices have been positively evaluated by clinicians in Leicester’s Hospitals, and by the Medical Devices Technology Evaluation Centre in Birmingham, and the team behind the design are now seeking additional funding to roll out the devices across the NHS.
The device progressed from design to fully-functional prototype in an unprecedented six months thanks to methodologies usually employed in the F1 industry. The group was able to significantly reduce the size of the device thanks to a more compact battery and lightweight circuit board components, plus a smaller speaker and sealing mechanism.
Nine prototypes were subsequently produced using rapid prototype machines at Alpine F1 Team’s UK headquarters in Enstone, Oxfordshire.
Project Pitlane, which unites on-track competitors and personnel from across F1 and motorsport, was created in March 2020 to answer the UK government’s ‘call to arms’ to collaborate and produce essential supplies in the fight against Covid-19.
It relies on expertise and goodwill throughout the industry to assist multiple organisations with engineering challenges and deliver an end product or service for the greater good.