The NHS and government have today set out a blueprint to address backlogs built up during the Covid pandemic and tackle long waits for care with a massive expansion in capacity for tests, checks and treatments.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard and Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid announced that the health service will build dozens more community diagnostic centres as part of the new elective care recovery plan.
The plan will also give patients greater control over their own health and offer greater choice of where to get care if they are waiting too long for treatment.
Teams of specialists will be deployed to help patients prepare for their op, and groups of clinicians and teams will be able to get instant access to test results, offering patients faster clinical advice.
The NHS has also said it will increase capacity to deliver more procedures and scans in each of the next three years, to around nine million more tests and checks by 2025.
This will mean that over a three-year period, patients will be offered around 17 million more diagnostic tests – an increase in capacity of a quarter compared with the three years prior to the pandemic.
More than 100 diagnostic centres will also be rolled out, with the increase in capacity coming on the back of the NHS accelerating the rollout of these ‘one stop shops’ over the last year, with 66 set to be in use across England by the end of March – 26 more than previously planned.
New surgical hubs will also be added to the network of 122 already operating across the country, helping ensure that unless people chose to postpone, the longest time patients could wait will reduce so that by March 2025 patients aren’t waiting longer than a year for surgery.
The hubs focus on high-volume routine surgery so more patients can get seen more quickly, making efficient use of taxpayer resources, and creating extra capacity so emergency cases do not disrupt operations and cause cancellations or delays.
The plan, developed with Royal Colleges, patient groups and health charities, sets out how the NHS staff will make the best use of additional government funding to begin to address the Covid backlog.
NHS staff have been working hard to recover services while dealing with the rise of Omicron and sustained numbers of Covid hospitalisations, high levels of staff absence due to Covid, all while accelerating the booster rollout with more than eleven million boosters delivered since December 12.
The plan will ensure that the innovations put in place by local areas can be expanded, and comes as the NHS has already committed to continuing to increase investment in mental health services through the mental health investment standard as well as providing further funding for primary and community care services.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said:
“As we move out of the Omicron wave the NHS is applying the same determination and ‘can do’ spirit we have displayed throughout the pandemic, to address backlogs in routine care that have inevitably built up, and reduce long waits.
“That cannot happen overnight but we are determined to make the best possible use of the additional investment and take the best from our pandemic response, including smarter use of digital care and flexible working between teams and trusts, while building this additional diagnostic capacity that will help to accelerate progress.
“As we have always said throughout the pandemic, it is vitally important that anybody who has health needs continues to come forward, so that staff can help you with the best options for your care.”