The latest monthly performance statistics for the NHS reveal that extreme pressure is still being felt across the NHS, particular in A&E departments.
May saw the highest monthly emergency department attendances on record at 2.2 million, as well as the highest volume of 999 calls (853,065) and 'category one' call outs (77,934).
The Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that the pandemic has been the root cause of this ‘A&E crisis’, but, Dr Sarah Scobie, Deputy Director of Research at Nuffield Trust, says the government “cannot hide solely behind Covid-19”.
Dr Scobie says that key targets for admission, transfer and discharge have not been met since July 2015, thanks to “a long-term squeeze on staffing and space.”
“This progress is down to hospital teams and clinicians working above and beyond”
Hospital patients that are fit for discharge also continue to be held in hospital, with half of all patients in May experiencing delayed discharges.
Matthew Taylor, chief Executive of the NHS Confederation says these figures highlight “the continuing pressures in social care”, and calls on the government to address the staffing issues in this sector.
There has been some progress, however, and the number of patients waiting 104 weeks or more for elective care has been cut by two-thirds.
Sir Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “This progress is down to hospital teams and clinicians working above and beyond normal hours, as they have been since the pandemic began.
“But we cannot celebrate too soon. The rest of the waiting lists are proving very difficult to address and pressure is felt across the whole system … It is undoubtedly going to be hard to eliminate the backlog, particularly with the prospect of a hot summer and a likely strong flu season in the winter.”
Workforce planning in health and social care essential to tackling backlog
In light of this new data, the RCP, the RCN, the NHS Confederation and the Nuffield Trust are all calling on the government to invest in proper workforce planning and ensure there are enough staff to provide care sustainably in the long-term.
As Mr Taylor explains: “Our members can only reduce the pressure on the NHS if the Government acts decisively. In the context of the cost of living crisis, this must include increasing pay for the lowest paid staff to ensure maximum possible retention in the face of a challenging job market.
“The NHS is full of committed staff and leaders but they cannot work miracles. There is a capacity gap across financial resilience, capital investment and workforce which needs urgent attention from the Government. System working, innovation and collaboration alone will not be able to meet the scale of the challenge currently facing the health service.”