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Covid backlog: Three-quarters of trust leaders worried about winter disruption


By Jess Hacker
24 June 2021

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Nearly three-quarters (73%) of trust leaders are concerned that plans to address the care backlog will be disrupted over the winter given the need to prioritise urgent demand, a survey has shown.

Led by NHS Providers (23 June), the survey found that as many as 40% were ‘extremely’ concerned, while 33% were ‘moderately’ concerned about potential disruption to services.

Mental health and acute trusts in particular agreed that demand for mental health services currently exceeds capacity, and are concerned a backlog of care may further exacerbate the problem.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said that the survey reveals ‘in stark detail the sheer scale of the challenge’ facing the NHS, as it deals with rising demand for urgent services, a growing waiting list, and a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Ms Cordery told Healthcare Leader: ‘As we move towards greater system working, trust leaders will be working in close partnership with colleagues in primary care to identify locally driven solutions to clear backlogs of care, restore routine services, and tackle pent up demand across urgent and emergency care, mental health and community health services.’

According to the BMA, including estimates for missing data, the elective treatment waiting list increased to 5.12 million in April, a record high.

Last month, it was found that 84% of trust leaders believed waiting times for children and young people’s mental health services have worsened over the last six months.

This new survey saw 155 trust executives and directors respond, covering all types of trusts and accounting for 53% of the total number of trusts in England.

Half of trusts see staff burnout

Meanwhile, almost half (48%) of respondents said they have seen evidence of staff leaving their organisation due to Covid-19 burnout, early retirement and other reasons related to the pandemic.

When broken down by organisation type, those working in mental health trusts were more likely to lose staff due to the pandemic, with 57% of respondents reporting people had left.

Additionally, 88% of leaders said it was likely that another surge in Covid-19 cases would place additional pressures on their services, while 89% said they were worried these would come during the already challenging winter months.

Similarly, 78% leaders were worried about the operational pressures they expect to face this winter, with several citing flu and respiratory viruses as key concerns.

Earlier this week, the BMA highlighted that the NHS must hire and retain overseas health workers if it is to successfully address the care backlog, in spite of Baroness Dido Harding’s pledge to end the health service’s reliance on foreign doctors and nurses if she took over as chief executive.

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