Planning guidance provides much needed clarity for the year ahead

25 March 2021


Responding to the publication of the planning guidance, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said:

"The planning guidance provides welcome and much needed clarity for the year ahead. It rightly acknowledges the extraordinary efforts made by trusts and frontline staff in dealing with the pandemic, adapting and innovating to confront COVID-19 while continuing to deliver other essential services.

"It is good to see the approach will place staff wellbeing at the centre of service recovery and transformation. Trusts and their partners are already looking at how they can help staff recover from an unprecedented period of sustained pressure, and will welcome the roll out of 40 mental health hubs.

"Ensuring that we have enough staff not only to cover existing workforce gaps, but to build flexibility into the system, is vital to ensure more realistic workloads and better work life balance. The calls for systems to develop local workforce supply plans will not be effective without national funding for recruitment and retention initiatives, underpinned by a fully costed and funded national workforce plan.

"Trust leaders agree on the need for further progress on equality, diversity and inclusion. However the planning guidance has not listed clear actions or next steps which are fundamental if we are serious about tackling health inequalities nationally and locally.

"We have also welcomed additional funding for elective activity to address the backlog of care created during the pandemic and will work closely with NHS England and NHS Improvement to ensure the funding flows effectively for trusts and patients. We also welcome the additional £95m made available for maternity services.

"We welcome the focus on clinical prioritisation in the guidance to ensure those patients most in need receive timely care, and recognise the need for sustained focus on cancer care and other services. The thresholds set do, to some extent, reflect the difficulties involved in scaling up this work as the threat from COVID-19 persists.

"The guidance highlights the importance of the vaccination programme. It is sensible to plan now for a possible booster campaign and extension of vaccines to children. However the extraordinary success of the programme so far should not disguise the fact that this is a huge logistical commitment which will need to be resourced and staffed on a sustainable basis.

"Similarly it is right to acknowledge the growing impact of long-COVID. The true impact of this is not yet clear, but it is already evident that it will be a major concern for years to come.

"We support the work to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions, which is an important element in steps to ensure a sustainable service. We welcome continued funding for discharges, but would like to see this made permanent to improve capacity for long term planning and to reduce uncertainty.

"We welcome plans to move forward with the roll out of two-hour crisis community health response standards, but it is crucial that funding reaches these services to help with the roll out.

"The additional £500m for mental health services secured last year is of course very welcome, but there is a risk that it is spread too thinly to make the difference people in need of mental health care and support really need, and deserve, to see. While a welcome £79m was allocated to children and young people's mental health services last month, we still do not have complete clarity on exactly where the rest is going to be targeted.

"The planning guidance provides much needed clarity for trusts and their partners for the year ahead. However it is important to remember that funding has only been allocated for the additional costs of COVID-19 for the first half of the year. This will need to be kept under close review as the true costs of the pandemic become clear.

"The operational burden that trusts and local systems are still bearing is huge. The planning guidance rightly seeks to establish priorities, but given the immediate pressures and the big task of recovery, the health and care sector will continue to face considerable challenges for the year to come."