NAO report highlights scale of challenge facing the NHS

01 December 2021

Responding to the National Audit Office's (NAO) report on NHS backlogs and waiting times, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said:

"We welcomed the opportunity to input to this important report, which highlights the scale of the challenge facing the NHS before the pandemic had even started.

"As the report makes clear, the NHS entered the pandemic under severe pressures with funding constraints and growing pressure on performance. The NHS is facing a significant backlog of care across a range of services, including planned operations, mental health and community services, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

"Trusts and frontline staff are working incredibly hard to bear down on this backlog – and progress is being made – but this report highlights the sheer difficulty in trying to predict how long a full recovery will take. We are also faced with ongoing uncertainty over how many people will continue to come forward for care, the number of hospital admissions due to COVID-19 hospitalisations in the future, particularly given the threat of Omicron, and how quickly we can stabilise the urgent and emergency care pathway. All of these factors could have a significant impact on how quickly the NHS will be able to reduce waiting lists.

"Trust leaders are all too aware of the impact that waiting lists have on patients and they are doing everything they can to prioritise and treat patients according to clinical need. It is important that we do everything we can to avoid the risk of exacerbating health inequalities, which have worsened during the pandemic.

"That's why the upcoming elective recovery plan is so important. It is vital that this plan is grounded in reality, recognising the extraordinary pressure that trusts are facing as we head into a challenging winter, the current mismatch between demand and capacity and the ongoing staffing shortages facing the NHS.

"We need to open and honest with the public about what is achievable."

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