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On this website today, Jeremy Hunt sets out his vision for the post-covid NHS. The UK’s longest serving (former) health secretary and current Commons health committee chair turns his attentions to a wide range of topics covering what the “new normal” will look like for the NHS.
First, he cites The Royal College of Surgeons prediction of a “mountain-sized” waiting list for surgery that could take five years to clear. Mental health waiting times will also lengthen, with pent-up demand after a 30 per cent decline in referrals at the start of the crisis – and additional demand from traumatised families and staff.
To compound these difficulties, writes Mr Hunt, some parts of hospitals may only be able to operate at 60 per cent of capacity because of the new requirements for social distancing and PPE.
On a more positive note, he says: “The NHS has just passed one of the most challenging tests in its history: unlike health services in Lombardy or New York it was not overwhelmed. Not one covid patient was denied a ventilator. Doctors did not have to “play God” allocating intensive care beds.”
The crisis brought with it a unique and unexpected silver lining: the ability to learn lessons from the first time ever the NHS had to stop the majority of its non-emergency services.
Prior to coronavirus 70 per cent of GP consultations were face to face. Now it is just 23 per cent.
But online consultations release space in healthcare facilities and allow doctors who might have reduced their hours or left the workforce to work from home.
Another area where I hope we don’t turn back the clock is in our A&Es
Online consultations can also be positive for patients, he says, and not just in reducing the spread of infections in surgeries. Many older patients find it challenging to get to an appointment and welcome being able to speak to their doctor from their home.
”Another area where I hope we don’t turn back the clock is in our A&Es. During the pandemic they have to change the way they operate, separating patients with covid potential from others and putting more experienced clinicians at the “front door”.
“So in a period when 111 calls have doubled from 50,000 a day to around 100,000 a day, isn’t this the moment to change our emergency care model so that the point of access becomes 111, whether online or by phone?”
Find out why Mr Hunt believes this will work – and also about his views on workforce planning and local freedom to innovate – in the comment piece here.