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13.07.20

The King’s Fund: Delays to treatment and continuation of care realistic

Following publication of monthly hospital performance data and the GP Patient Survey 2020 results, analysts from the King’s Fund have cautioned patients that they could well face long waits for care to continue as the health service continues to face significant challenges.

Emerging out of the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals and health service providers across the country face significant backlogs and reduced capacities as they carefully observe necessary measures such as social distancing.

Experts from the King’s Fund called for honest conversations between healthcare providers, patients and the public about what they can realistically expect in the coming months.

Siva Anandaciva, Chief Analyst at the King’s Fund, reflected on the monthly hospital performance data on accident and emergencyreferral to treatment and diagnostics: “This data lays bare the enormous challenge facing NHS services across the country. The number of patients waiting over a year for planned care is rocketing up, as are waits for key diagnostic tests.

“Hospitals are now starting to see more patients for routine care, but the recovery is still in its early stages, with a long and difficult road ahead. It will take time for services to bounce back to previous levels of activity due to physical distancing, infection control and the need to give hard-working health and care staff much-needed respite in the coming months.

“As well as the challenges faced by NHS hospitals, there are other front lines in social care, primary and community services and mental health care that are less visible in today’s figures. The focus needs to be on getting all aspects of the health and care system back up and running. Even then, patients can unfortunately expect long waits for care to continue.”

Meanwhile, Dan Wellings, Senior Fellow at the King’s Fund, reflected on the GP Patient Survey 2020 – and the Adult Inpatient Survey 2019, which was also published this month – and found that the two large-scale national patient surveys, which were published this month but carried out prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, showed that while overall patient experience of hospitals and GPs was good once they received it, patients were finding it increasingly hard to access services.

Mr Wellings said: “These issues are likely to be exacerbated by the backlog of referrals and procedures that have built up during the Covid-19 pandemic. We need to have honest conversations with patients and the public about what they can realistically expect from the health service in the coming year as services struggle to meet demand.

“There has been a reported increase in use of digital technologies to access general practice during the Covid-19 pandemic and about half of GP appointments were carried out by phone in May, but increasing use of technology will not by itself solve the complex problems of access.

“Ultimately, to meet people’s needs we will need to recruit and retain more doctors and other healthcare professionals to fulfil appointments, whether they’re in-person, on the phone or online.”

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