Responding to NHS England and Improvement’s announcement of £160 million ‘Accelerator Sites’ initiative to tackle waiting lists created by the COVID-19 pandemic BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said:
“Just under five million people are waiting to begin treatment today - the highest number since records began in 2007. In a recent report the BMA estimated that it will cost £4bn just to clear the backlog of patients in England needing elective care and that doesn’t even take into account the 20m fewer patients not seen in outpatient clinics last year. So to trumpet a cash boost of £160m is wholly disingenuous.
“Even if the money being promised was enough to fund the care for all those who are waiting, those patients face being treated by an exhausted and depleted workforce; a workforce that has not had any kind of respite in the past 14 months. In fact, a recent BMA Covid tracker survey found that thousands of doctors are planning to leave the profession or retire early, and these plans from NHSE fail to acknowledge that the current workforce is simply too tired and too small to clear the waiting lists.
“The idea of GPs providing specialist clinics, or ‘super Saturdays’, also shows a grave lack of understanding of the rocketing workload and demand already facing GPs, which includes delivering the largest vaccination programme - in the history of the NHS.
“Having to bid for a bite at this funding cherry may also lead to a postcode lottery for patients in terms of how long they have to wait and what services are available to them if some healthcare providers are more successful than others. So rather than dangling the prospect of a few million pounds to those healthcare providers who may not really have the staff or the facilities to deliver such ambitious results, NHS England and the Government should be focusing on retaining the workforce.
"To do this will require a credible strategy – which includes a recovery plan that demonstrates how the health and wellbeing of all staff will be monitored, taking into account workforce capacity - and investment coupled with innovative approaches to ensure an already exhausted workforce isn’t pushed even further than they have been already.
“The Government is already aware that many of the technological innovations, such as ‘pop-up clinics’, previously launched during this pandemic have ended up actually increasing workload, so it is crucial that there is adequate engagement with relevant staff from across the health service and from those who will be most impacted by these measures to ensure that this approach will be effective and ultimately sustainable.
"Technological innovation should be used to address some really basic and simple issues, which the BMA has been calling for, such as enabling hospitals to be able to prescribe electronically for patients and to have direct access to community diagnostics, something that is currently creating significant burden on GP practices. Another example is the administration of waiting lists; currently huge numbers of patients are taking up GP and hospital clinician time chasing up their waits, and wanting to know more about when they will be seen or treated. There should be local systems so to keep patients up to date about their waits with helplines for queries.
“What we need to see is a workable plan that sufficiently supports the needs of the health service as a whole, and it is imperative that the allocation of funding and resources is reasonable and caters to the needs of primary, secondary and community care – all of whom have been completely stretched in the past year. Importantly, this must be underpinned by ongoing efforts to expand the medical workforce and to ensure that the utmost is done to retain doctors and NHS staff and give them enough support through the challenging time ahead.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.