Addressing the care backlog – an essential partnership between primary and secondary care

21 July 2021

A new briefing by NHS Providers and the At Scale Primary Care Networking Group explores how new partnerships are evolving between primary and secondary care providers to tackle the waiting lists that have been created in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This briefing comes at a time when the health service is identifying ways in which can increase the speed of tackling care backlogs given the record 5.3 million people on national waiting lists. As the new secretary of state has highlighted, these waiting lists are likely to rise further given the drop in the number of patients coming forward for non-COVID treatment over the last 15 months.

Given the size of the waiting list challenge the NHS will have to work faster, smarter and differently if it is to recover the backlog within a reasonable timeframe. Senior NHS leaders have said that, on current trajectories, the backlog could take as long as three years to recover.

Ensuring that GPs, hospitals and community services work together effectively is essential to tackling the care backlog at pace. The new briefing, produced by NHS Providers' and a group of 'at scale' primary care providers, explores how primary and secondary care providers can work together, putting aside traditional organisational boundaries to recover the backlog of care.

The case studies focus on:

The report also identifies a series of local and national 'enablers', which give collaborative working between providers the best chance of succeeding. These include building strong local relationships, improving communications across teams and with patients, driving digital transformation, accepting that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for everyone, and being data and evidence led. Securing national investment and support to help reduce waiting times and support patients also remains important.

The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson said:

"This report highlights how primary and secondary care providers are coming together to find new ways to tackle the growing care backlog that COVID-19 has created. NHS Providers is keen to reflect the diversity of partnerships that trusts are already creating at the frontline and how they are working successfully together with primary care partners to treat more patients more quickly.

"This briefing marks an important first step in capturing some of the learning and enablers for that collaboration to succeed and we look forward to expanding our work with key partners to better support the interface between primary and secondary care."

The chief executive of Modality Partnership, Vincent Sai said:

"Primary care colleagues across the country have risen to the challenge of the pandemic, pivoting to virtual delivery as well as maintaining critical face to face contact and playing a leading role in the successful vaccination roll out.

"Our focus now must be on embedding innovation from the pandemic and supporting staff and patients through the next phase as we tackle the care backlog. To this end, the At Scale Primary Care Networking Group is delighted to be working with NHS Providers to share the learning from new collaborations between primary care and trusts and identify what works best for patients."