This month saw the publication of some eye-opening research by The Health Foundation, which analysed second wave trends to reveal how elective care in England is coping with the impact of COVID-19.
Based on published NHS England data on referral to treatment waiting times, the report looks at the numbers of people on waiting lists (and the time they spend on them) and the number of those completing elective treatment pathways in 2020.
The takeaway message from the data is clear: our elective care system is in crisis, and collaborative action must be taken to prevent the situation from getting worse.
Key points from the report
- Four million fewer people completed elective treatment pathways in England in 2020 than in 2019
- In January 2021 the number of patients who had waited longer than 6 months for elective treatment exceeded 1 million, with around 304,000 people waiting over a year for treatment
- The waiting list is now at 4.6 million, the highest level since comparable records began
- Projections by the REAL Centre suggest that the waiting list could reach 9.7 million by March 2024, with fewer than half of patients treated within 18 weeks
Meeting the challenges ahead
Restoring elective care to pre-pandemic levels and addressing the growing backlog of patients is likely to take years according to the report, but it must be done without sacrificing the broader ambitions to modernise and integrate care.
This is a challenge that demands a two-pronged approach: the overhaul of existing patient referral systems, and significant investment in improving communication between primary and secondary care.
It’s going to require creativity, commitment and unprecedented collaboration, but we cannot delay these reforms. After all, long waiting lists are not merely an inconvenience; they put lives in danger.
Digital triage and referral platforms, including Cinapsis SmartReferrals, demonstrated their value as clinical tools during the pandemic - supporting NHS teams to remotely manage patient care and to remain connected whilst under incredible pressure.
However, now is the moment for ICSs to select the very best of these tools to embed permanently. The era of email chains, pagers and answer machine messages is over: it’s the smartphone-compatible, interoperable with existing systems and data-secure referral management platforms that will prove essential to tackling the waiting list backlogs.
We need to roll out digital systems with referrals pathway knowledge built into them, so patients never end up at Emergency Departments (or on specialist waiting lists) unnecessarily. We need to make it easier for clinicians to source second opinions from specialist colleagues, so that no patient slips through the gaps and on to the wrong pathway.
At Cinapsis, we know how important these features are for clinicians. We built the Cinapsis SmartReferrals platform in close consultation with the end users, and we’re constantly refining our software to meet the needs of frontline NHS staff.
We also know that when clinicians are given access to immediate advice and guidance, treatment pathways can be accelerated for urgent cases, and out-of-hospital care easily planned where appropriate.
We have the solutions that work. Let’s put them into action to tackle the elective care crisis.
Learn more about the Cinapsis SmartReferrals platform
Read the full Health Foundation report: ‘Longer waits, missing patients and catching up’