The coronavirus pandemic has presented an unprecedented and considerable challenge to the delivery of core NHS and care services. Alongside the British public, the Committee is hugely grateful to all NHS and care staff who have courageously and dutifully continued to meet the needs of patients in these exceptional circumstances. In particular, we remember with humility the frontline health and care workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus and their bereaved families who have paid a price no words can fully do justice to. Less often thanked, but none the less deserving of gratitude, are the efforts of civil servants and officials at the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Improvement and Public Health England for doing their very best to ensure clinical care continued as best it could in such a challenging situation.
Throughout our inquiry, we have investigated a range of important issues relating to the delivery of core NHS and care services during the pandemic. We have sought to address the challenges raised in written and oral evidence from perspectives of NHS and care staff, patients and the healthcare system. This report addresses the following issues:
In Chapter 2, we assess the Government’s and NHS England & Improvement’s communication strategy with patients. We heard from NHS users, such as Rob Martinez and Daloni Carlisle, who said that their experiences of poor communication about their medical appointments had left them “in limbo”. We recommend, as a matter of urgency, that the Government and NHS England and Improvement (NHSE/I) review their and NHS Trusts’ communication strategies with patients.
We assess what impact the pandemic has had on demand for NHS services in Chapter 3. During the pandemic, while the NHS prioritised urgent COVID-related care, there has been a substantial increase in the number of missed, delayed and cancelled appointments across critical non-COVID services. This has resulted in an increase in waiting times and the backlog of appointments which has placed further pressure on the NHS. We ask the Government and NHSE/I to clarify what they are doing to identify and manage this demand.
We have also been greatly concerned about the effect of the pandemic on the physical and mental wellbeing of the NHS and social care workforce. In Chapters 4 and 5, we address the problems in the supply of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and the value of routinely testing NHS staff for COVID-19. We are yet to understand why such a testing system cannot be introduced and why the disadvantages currently outweigh the advantages of doing so. We also consider workforce fatigue and “burnout”, and issues around diversity and race in the NHS and the need to support Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) NHS staff.
The pandemic has of course also required the NHS to adapt the delivery of its non-COVID services. In Chapter 6, we assess what changes should take place to support the NHS in the long-term. They include introducing an expanded 111 dial service to support A&E departments, investigating how technology (“telemedicine”) can be used without digitally excluding those already disadvantaged, and retaining capacity and resources from the independent sector in the long term.
Published: 1 October 2020