NHS recovery: a new mountain to climb

by David Bailey

Doctors in Wales face a new and monumental challenge without a chance to breathe

Published: Wednesday 5 May 2021
david bailey

Thanks to the successful vaccination programme and significantly lower COVID-19 community infection rates a glimmer of hope has emerged that some sort of normal is on the horizon.

Whilst this is a moment to recognise the tireless dedication and sacrifices made by our NHS workforce in Wales, we face a new and ongoing challenge without a chance to draw breath. As Wales recently marked a record number of patients (500,000) waiting for treatment we’re reminded of the huge mountain we are facing and quite frankly we’re all exhausted.

No one is more concerned than doctors about patients living in pain and discomfort whilst they wait for treatment but if we’re to deliver our very highest standard of care and tackle this enormous backlog we need to prioritise the health and wellbeing of the NHS workforce in Wales and ensure those delivering care can rest and recuperate.

This is no more evident than in our recent COVID tracker survey, key findings included…

  • 55% of doctors responding said that they had felt significantly higher levels of fatigue compared to the time before the pandemic
  • 50% said they had been impacted by staff sickness due to COVID-19
  • An alarming 80% had reduced or absolutely no access to breaks
  • 45% said they had nowhere to go to relax or take a break
  • 31% have not been paid for or are awaiting payment for overtime.

This is not only hugely concerning for the NHS recovery in Wales but it’s also dangerous and unsustainable. Exactly how can an exhausted, and undervalued population of doctors carry on at this pace without any form of respite?

The future Welsh Government must prioritise recruitment and retention but there are also things health boards can do to better value and take care of their workforce before they leave in their droves.

Our fatigue and facilities charter sets out how health boards can adopt a culture of commitment to valuing and taking care of doctors by providing a decent space for them to relax or sleep as well as access to healthy food to refuel and sustain them.

Sadly, this won’t tackle the issue alone, alongside significant investment to retain and recruit staff we still face at least five years of extended waiting lists and tragically more patients suffering whilst they wait for treatment.

With COVID-19 transforming protocol and procedures for years to come our members want support from the Welsh Government to implement our proposals for ways in which we can better tackle the backlog and treat more patients as safely and efficiently as possible.

This includes using our space better for example adapting non-clinical spaces such as offices and repurposing them for clinics and waiting areas allowing for social distancing. Additionally, we could invest in diagnostics, improving waiting lists by testing patients before they are seen by a consultant, speeding up the process of being treated in hospital.

We also need central information hubs for patients on waiting lists rather than the huge number of understandable queries coming through general practices already experiencing 10-15% higher volumes of requests for consultations than pre-pandemic

We’re ready to work with the future Welsh Government to re-build the NHS in Wales but we need to be heard and valued to deliver the high-quality care that we want to give to people across Wales.

David Bailey is chair of the BMA's Welsh Council