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How did the NHS manage to cut waiting times amidst their busiest winter ever?

Since the pandemic began, the media spotlight has glared brightly on NHS staff, questioning their ability to bring down the infamous one, two, and - for some patients - up to three-year wait times for care.

Recent data shows that they are starting to make progress in this area. NHS staff managed to decrease the number of patients waiting over one year for treatment - it fell by 12,000 in February, and the number of patients waiting two years for care also declined by 500.

This progress is more notable when considering the context: this winter was the busiest our National Health Service had ever faced.

Between December and March this year, emergency call volumes and ambulance call-outs reached an all-time high. During this period, call handlers dealt with 304,000 category one calls - that’s a fifth more than any other winter period.

This all-time high extends to physical visits, too - there were 5.1 million type one A&E visits - the highest number in three years.

During this period, NHS staff handled the fastest vaccination programme in its history; they administered almost 30 million vaccinations between December and March, preventing 200,000 people from hospitalisation.

How did the NHS achieve this? NHS National Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis, named “innovative approaches” such as “same day hip replacements” and “dedicated mobile hubs for operations” as the main time-saving strategies.

The NHS is duty bound to prioritise heart surgery and cancer care. Therefore, other specialisms are feeling the pinch. For example, orthopaedics have 60,000 patients who have been on waiting lists for over a year. Solutions to the predicament include same-day treatments - when done well, such procedures offer flexible and efficient solutions for patients.

Ophthalmology is another discipline facing pressure. Mobile cataract suites in Buckinghamshire will allow for an additional 80 to 100 surgeries every week whilst certain specific hospitals, such as Devon’s Nightingale hospital, have cleared a backlog of 10,000 patients by offering orthopaedic, ophthalmological and rheumatological services.

Despite this progress, many patients on long waiting lists are moving away from the NHS and seeking private medical care, especially for hip and knee surgery.

The NHS Indemnity Scheme should cover Choose and Book waiting list initiatives - however, this is not always guaranteed.

At Practition, we provide bespoke cover for consultants - we look at the structure of your practice and the types of patients each individual consults with.

We can cover work that isn't covered by NHS waiting list initiatives. Please contact us today to see how we can help.

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