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Backlog recovery: Trust leaders are rightly ambitious about what the NHS can achieve

Thursday, 19 May, 2022
Backlog recovery: Trust leaders are rightly ambitious about what the NHS can achieve

A new four-part series of podcasts from NHS Providers highlights how trusts are responding with commitment and ingenuity to the challenges of tackling care and treatment backlogs.

Providers Deliver: Tackling the care backlog showcases how hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services are working to ease backlogs and, through early intervention, tackle rising demands for treatment.

Contributions from trust leaders and clinicians about how they are taking new approaches show how they are making a real difference for patients and service users, including:

  • an initiative to increase vital neurosurgery operations during the pandemic
  • a collaboration between four mental health trusts and independent providers to create additional inpatient beds and reduce out of area placements
  • remote support for teachers from a children’s speech and language therapy team, to help children with their language, communication and social skills
  • the work of an emergency operations centre where clinicians advise patients and ambulance colleagues in the field, easing pressures on other services while ensuring people receive appropriate care.

Northumbria Healthcare features on the fourth podcast, which will be released on Thursday, June 9, with staff talking about the Discharge to Assess scheme, which is an integrated approach to assessing patients in their home rather than on the hospital ward when they are well enough to be discharged.

These successful initiatives are all the more remarkable given the context of the pandemic including Covid-19 pressures, unprecedented challenges for urgent and emergency care, growing demand for mental health and community services, and continuing severe workforce shortages.

They also underline trust leaders’ concerns about the way the pandemic has exacerbated health inequalities, and the importance of tackling these challenges, including race equality, as part of their approach to addressing backlogs.

Speaking in the first episode, NHS England and NHS Improvement’s director of health inequalities, Dr Bola Owolabi, says it is “imperative” that recovery efforts narrow the health inequalities gap.

We also hear from Anna Quigley, research director at Ipsos, who highlights increasing public concerns over growing waiting lists.

The director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, Miriam Deakin, describes the challenges trust leaders face as they work to address backlogs while doing all they can to support staff wellbeing. She says the pandemic has shown how they can be incredibly “solutions-focused and creative”, and that we are already seeing examples of great progress:

“We are rightly ambitious about what the NHS can achieve.

“We’ve seen it deliver great things against the odds in the past.

“So I think it’s right to be aspirational and there are some indications, such as bringing down the two-year waits, that we are on track and making good progress.

“It will be difficult because we are still seeing the impact of the pandemic. We’ve got high levels of staff sickness, often directly related to COVID-19, and the pandemic has changed and exacerbated the shape of demand.

“So it’s a big challenge but we’re confident that trust leaders will rise to it.”