In recent weeks the numbers of people in hospital with COVID-19 has fallen, as have numbers of cases in the community. COVID-19 will be with us for some time, but we hope we are moving away from the intense pressure the NHS has seen over the last year. There is no doubt that the government restrictions, together with the successful roll out of the vaccination programme has contributed greatly to this welcomed news.
However, there has been increased concern about the rising numbers of patients waiting for care and treatment across health and social care settings.
There is no getting away from the fact that thousands of people have not been able to access what they need or would usually expect from the NHS in the past year or so.
Waiting lists have risen to unprecedented levels with thousands of people waiting to be seen or receive care or treatment in the Lancashire and South Cumbria region. It is worth noting that this continues to grow every day as more people come forward for support. Demand continues to rise faster than we can see people and help them.
This equation is the biggest challenge facing the NHS in this moment. It would be remiss of me not to also acknowledge that it is a huge worry for everyone who is waiting too and their families who I know will want them to be treated and ‘OK’ as soon as possible. I know the biggest concern is that people waiting are deteriorating, suffering more and potentially experiencing mental health issues because of all the worry and stress.
It is a very big problem indeed.
I want to share this week that not only do all health care leaders in Lancashire and South Cumbria recognise this, we are actively seeking answers and solutions each and every day. How can we do things differently? What would be the outcome if changed things up from the norm? What can we stop to free up space and time to see more people?
I’m pleased to say on the back of these conversations the region – Lancashire and South Cumbria – is to be one of the first of a small number of areas in the country to formally ‘accelerate’ our restoration efforts and try to sort it.
We have been selected for a super-charged Government initiative and we are going to do everything within our gift to prioritise and see as many people as possible from our waiting lists in the next three months.
I won’t sugar-coat it for you. It’s an ambitious and daunting plan but if we can reach our targets or get anywhere near them it will be hugely worthwhile. So, as ever, we’re up for giving it a go.
Our aim is to ramp up activity to 120 per cent of what we would normally be able to achieve and start to make some very big inroads in our waiting lists indeed. We have been able to identify a number of areas we could focus on to achieve this. I won’t list them all here, but to give you a flavour of how we’re going to tackle this, they include:
- Increasing the number of people we can see and treat by recruiting more people to help us
- Bringing in more temporary equipment such as portable CT scanners and temporary buildings to create more space for more patients
- Making the most of all our available space and repurpose it where we can for wards and outpatient facilities
- Booking as many procedures into local private sector hospitals and healthcare providers as possible to boost the number of people being seen
- Making sure we’re using Digital, Artificial Intelligence and MedTech solutions to see, treat and support people wherever possible
- Speeding up existing research studies which might support new treatments and pathways
We are looking to scale up and expand in a fairly monumental way, to see and treat many more people in the next three months right across the health care system. All hospitals and health care settings will work together across Lancashire and South Cumbria to move patients around where there is specific expertise and capacity to see and treat them quicker and more effectively.
You might be asked if you are comfortable to travel a little bit further or see a different person than usual to help us achieve as many appointments for as many people as possible – of course if this is something you’re not able to do easily or have reservations about, you will be able to talk to us about the alternatives. Amidst this military-style logistical exercise, please be reassured we’ll never lose sight of the fact our patients are people and will remain at the centre of their care.
It’s going to be difficult and pressured – and not least for colleagues who are already exhausted from their relentless contribution to our Covid response.
But I know I speak for everyone when I say we are determined to try. We’re acutely aware that the alternative is to run the risk that people suffer more harm while they’re waiting for their turn. I have every faith in our team here at the Trust, and in our partner organisations. They put me in mind of the NHS super hero logo. We can take this on and we’ll do our best to achieve these ambitious targets, but it is a balancing act as we continue to be equally determined to restore our people too.
I want to say to all colleagues: we are well positioned to do this, it is for a time limited period over the next three months and we’re going to do everything possible to support you, including recruiting as many people as humanely possible to join the team; filling current vacancies and bringing on additional temporary resource where appropriate.
If you know of anyone who would like to join the Trust in a wide range of roles, please do check in with our vacancy page here, which is constantly updated. If you feel like you’d like to help with this enormous but amazing challenge, we want you.
Together we will do this. If you are waiting for treatment or a consultation of any kind, bear with us as we stand these elements of the plan up. We will be in touch as soon as we’re able. In the meantime, know we’re working as hard as we can. It’s about to get harder, but also better for so many people too.