Health

NHS will take months to return to normal in England, says hospitals boss

The NHS will take months to return to normal in England after the coronavirus pandemic is over because doctors and nurses are exhausted, it was claimed today.

Hundreds of frontline medics fighting Covid-19 have been working at ‘fever pitch’ for months. Hospital trust bosses say their staff need to ‘decompress and recover’ after taking on extra hours and seeing many patients die during the second wave.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, warned ‘very large numbers’ are expected to go on long-term sick leave or quit in the coming months.

Almost 4.5million people in England were waiting for routine operations such as joint replacements or cataract surgery by December — the highest number since records began. It includes nearly 200,000 people who have been on the lists for more than a year.

The mass influx of Covid patients to hospitals has caused havoc, forcing trusts to cancel and postpone routine services to cope with the added pressure. Thousands of cancer patients have missed out on potentially lifesaving treatment.

Almost 34,000 hospital beds were taken up by infected patients in England at the height of the second wave — 80 per cent higher than the peak of 18,500 last spring. 

Hundreds of doctors and nurses have been working at an 'intense fever pitch' for months. Above is an ambulance worker outside the Royal Free London hospital

Hundreds of doctors and nurses have been working at an ‘intense fever pitch’ for months. Above is an ambulance worker outside the Royal Free London hospital

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said staff are 'exhausted'

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said staff are ‘exhausted’

Warning the NHS was unlikely to return to normal for months, Mr Hopson told The Guardian hospital chiefs wanted to give doctors and nurses time to recover.

‘There’s potentially quite a tension between giving staff who are completely exhausted the space and support they need to recover, and at the same time the NHS recovering the backlogs of care that have built up, particularly in the hospital sector,’ he said.

‘What (hospital) chief executives worry about is that the focus is just going to be on the service delivery, about “quickly, quickly quickly, catch up on all of this”.

‘Of course that’s really, really important. [But] how do we balance that with the need to give our staff space to recover and decompress? 

‘That’s a really tricky and difficult issue. These could potentially be conflicting demands for a lot of people (in the NHS).’

He added on Twitter: ‘Over the last few weeks NHS staff have worked at an intense fever pitch, day after day, in a way we’ve never seen before.

‘After a year like no other, trust leaders (are) clear they have to support their staff to recompress and recover.’ 

He called on ministers to tell the public that the NHS will not be able to tackle the huge backlog of operations until its staff have had a chance to recover.

NHS Providers says it doesn’t expect normal winter pressures to be triggered until March, and remains concerned about the ‘transition’ to this stage of the pandemic.

It is hoped the vaccine may be able to relieve pressure on hospitals from Covid-19 patients. Above are vaccinators receiving training at the University of Hull on January 30

It is hoped the vaccine may be able to relieve pressure on hospitals from Covid-19 patients. Above are vaccinators receiving training at the University of Hull on January 30

Deadly toll of scrapped cancer surgery 

The devastating toll of the pandemic on cancer patients is laid bare today.

Tens of thousands have missed out on potentially lifesaving treatment, official figures reveal.

Surgery to remove tumours plummeted by one third during the first wave of coronavirus. From April to August some 21,700 fewer patients had cancer surgery than in the same period of 2019, according to Public Health England (PHE).

The number of patients diagnosed with cancer from April to September last year was 35,592, a fall of one quarter compared with 2019 levels.

And in the eight months from April to November, 35,488 fewer patients started cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, down 17 per cent on 2019.

The devastating figures emerged as the head of the NHS said further delays to cancer surgery in recent weeks were a major cause of concern.

Top medics say the ever-growing waiting list paints a picture of the ‘calamitous impact’ of the virus on routine services.

‘For thousands of people in this country, a corrective operation is the best way to relieve debilitating pain and get them back up on their feet, back to work and enjoying life again,’ Professor Neil Mortensen, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said previously.

‘Many of us were complaining about the pain of the lockdown restrictions in November.

‘However, we should remember all those people waiting for an operation, who had their physical pain to deal with, on top of the pain of lockdown.’

Mr Hopson’s comments come after the devastating toll of the pandemic on cancer patients was laid bare today.

Tens of thousands have missed out on potentially lifesaving treatment, official figures revealed.

Surgery to remove tumours plummeted by one third during the first wave of coronavirus. 

From April to August some 21,700 fewer patients had cancer surgery than in the same period of 2019, according to Public Health England (PHE). 

The number of patients diagnosed with cancer from April to September last year was 35,592, a fall of one quarter compared with 2019 levels.

And in the eight months from April to November, 35,488 fewer patients started cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, down 17 per cent on 2019.

The devastating figures emerged as the head of the NHS said further delays to cancer surgery in recent weeks were a major cause of concern.

An estimated 800 cancer operations were cancelled in the first two weeks of January, as hospitals once again postponed thousands of non-Covid treatments.

Sir Simon Stevens told MPs last week that health bosses were ‘most concerned’ about the disruption to cancer surgery.


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