The NHS is running very fast to recover the care backlog only to stand still

Back in the 1990s, one of the features of ITV's Gladiators series was the travelator. Contestants had to run faster and faster just to stand still as the travelator's slope got steeper and steeper.

Yesterday's NHS performance statistics show that NHS staff are currently on their own, 2021 version of the travelator. They're running faster and faster to recover the care backlogs created by COVID-19. It feels like they are running as fast as our medal winning Olympic athletes in Tokyo. For example, they performed 84,000 more diagnostic tests in June than the previous month – the highest number for a year. They checked 230,000 people for cancer – the second highest figure on record. And, once again, they reduced the number of people waiting for surgery for more than a year by 32,000.

But despite this effort, waiting lists have grown again.

Despite the many other pressures the NHS faced. The large numbers of staff self-isolating and taking much needed summer leave. The 5,000 COVID-19 patients in NHS hospitals. The COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Record numbers of 999 calls and people seeking help for mental health issues. But despite this effort, waiting lists have grown again. Because those patients whose treatment was delayed by COVID-19 are now coming forward. And there are more to come.

For every patient the NHS currently treats, more are coming onto the waiting list. The travelator part of the Gladiators show always ended with an exhausted contestant collapsing when the slope became too steep. That's exactly what we need to avoid happening to NHS staff. It's why, as prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak make their decisions on how much money to give the NHS for the next three and a half years, they need to have NHS staff front of mind.

Support NHS staff and give them a reasonable task and they will deliver. What we mustn't do is ask the impossible of them.

This blog was first published by the Daily Express newspaper.