Call to extend NHS’s deal with the private sector

The NHS’s deal with independent sector providers should be extended until the end of the financial year, health service organisations urged today.

According to their national body, the NHS Confederation, this will be vital to provide capacity to respond to the backlog of treatment.

In a report published today, it warns that the health service in England faces an uphill battle as it continues to manage thousands of very sick and recovering Covid-19 patients, maintain social distancing and restart services to treat cancer, stroke and heart care.

This challenge will be made harder, as healthcare services will be operating with much reduced capacity – possibly around 60% of normal because of the need for infection control measures, including the need to adhere to social distancing measures for patients and staff, it says.

The NHS Confederation says: ‘Among the key challenges will be dealing with the backlog of treatment that has been put on hold during Covid-19, with the waiting list for routine procedures, already at more than 4 million, now certain to rise significantly. As the pandemic moves from an ‘emergency’ response to ongoing care and rehabilitation, patients will require social care, respiratory, psychological, and other treatment in the community.

Exhausted staff

‘Doing all of this, health leaders will have to support many exhausted and traumatised staff and stay prepared for a possible second peak. They remain concerned that further steps to ease the lockdown must have a robust and clear rationale and be communicated with proper assurances to NHS staff and the wider public. 

‘This will include assurances about the effectiveness of the test and trace programme and adequate supplies of protective equipment as services restart.’

In an accompanying letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the NHS Confederation warns that it will not be possible to simply ‘switch on’ NHS services immediately. 

It calls on the Government to manage expectations about how quickly key patient services can be restored and to communicate this clearly if public confidence in the service is to be maintained.

Next phase

The NHS Confederation has published its report ahead of updated guidance from NHS England and NHS Improvement on how the next phase of the NHS response to the pandemic will be managed.

It is also seeking:

 An assurance that there will be a fully operational and robust test, track and trace system, as well as appropriate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), as services are resumed.

 A review of the impact of Covid-19 on the NHS and social care workforce, given the unprecedented pressure staff have been under.

 A delay in returning to the inspection regime of the Care Quality Commission to consider ‘the positive changes that have been achieved because of the lighter touch approach to regulation that has been in place during the pandemic’.

 Clarity over when there will be a return to the greater autonomy local organisations had before Covid-19 returned, as we move from Level 4 to Level 3.

The confederation’s chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘Political leaders have a vital role to play in reassuring the public that every step possible is being taken to manage the virus, while safely bringing back services that had to be paused. Retaining public confidence and trust in the NHS will be vital over the next few months.’