The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership. 

The pandemic has caused a conflagration in world trade. The manufacture and supply of materials and products faltered in 2020 but consumer demand persisted. After the first wave of the pandemic, economies around the world began to unlock and grow again. This recovery only exacerbated the disparity between supply and demand.

The UK is not alone in feeling the pinch. Economies across the world have experienced difficulties with supplies. However, Britain is alone in having the added impact of Brexit adding its weight to the supply chain problems.

The NHS has been under increasing pressure from these supply issues for some time, with almost daily reports of shortages or disruption to the supply of key clinical and non-clinical products. Trusts are also seeing supply issues impact vital capital projects.

Raw materials for building works are in short supply, delaying trust projects, including one to renew its oxygen supply system to ensure patients would get an adequate supply during a covid surge.

IT hardware has also been hard to come by, also leading to long delays, with one trust fearing that delays to renewing its ageing digital infrastructure could compromise the “timeliness, accuracy and effectiveness of patient care” (though it has since said those concerns have not materialised into an impact on care).

It is hard to see a resolution to the situation. Some experts say things should be back on an even keel in the next few months, others predict the disruption could last for the next two years. Meanwhile, NHS procurement teams and trusts will have to weather the storm as best they can.

Unwell patients, unjust situation

People from poorer or minority ethnic backgrounds are waiting weeks longer for vital NHS care than more affluent or white patients, analysis shared with HSJ reveals.

Analysis by Calderdale and Huddersfield Foundation Trust into its elective waiting lists found that people from minority ethnic background were waiting three weeks longer on average than white patients for ‘priority two’ operations – which must be done within one month.

The figures for last October also revealed people from the most deprived communities were waiting 2.5 weeks longer than those from the least deprived areas.

But Calderdale and Huddersfield did see an improvement in waiting time disparities since beginning the analysis early last year.

Owen Williams, who led the trust when the analysis was done and is a national health inequalities lead, has used an interview with HSJ to urge all trusts to carry out similar reviews on their waiting lists.   

Also on today

In his West Country Chronicle column, Nick Carding looks at a chicken and egg situation in a Plymouth emergency department, and in news, we report on the chief executive of Chesterfield Royal Hospital Foundation Trust who has announced she will retire in April.