There’s a focus this week on the challenges facing the NHS – a rise in deaths from heart disease as a result of disruption to services, and concerns from NHS England’s CEO that people are not receiving the care they deserve. The good news is that the oft-reported figure of seven million people on waiting lists for elective procedure is an overestimate, while an international study finds that telemedical care offers benefits for the management of chronic conditions.
The disruption to NHS services has been responsible for a sharp rise in deaths from heart disease, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has warned.
The charity said that ambulance delays, inaccessible care and long waits for surgery are linked to 30,000 excess cardiac deaths in England, and has called for a new strategy to reduce “unacceptable” waiting times. Its analysis suggests that 95,000 people in England could be on a waiting list for a heart test or procedure by April 2023 based on current trends, up from 224,000 before the start of the Covid pandemic.
The government has said it is investing another £500m to ease pressure on ambulances and boost hospital capacity.
The challenges facing the NHS are greater now than they were during the pandemic, Amanda Pritchard, the NHS CEO, told the King’s Fund annual conference this week.
“When I started this job, I think I said at the time, the pandemic would be the hardest thing ever had to do,” she told the conference. “Over the last year, I’ve become really clear and I’ve said a number of times – it’s where we are now. It’s the months and years ahead that will bring the most complex challenges.”
Pritchard expressed concern about the pressures on hospitals, maternity care and services caring for vulnerable people with learning disabilities, and said that the question that kept her awake at night was whether patients were receiving the standard of care they deserve. Although the NHS has made savings, she said, it still needs extra money to cope. Next year the budget will rise to more than £157bn, but NHS England believes it will still be short of £7bn.
Each week, 14,000 people are having their requests for social care turned down by local authorities, according to a new report from the charity Age UK.
The report, Why can’t I get care?, found that 12% of people aged 50+ in England (2.6 million) have an unmet need for care, and the older you are, the more likely it is that your needs are not being met. It also found that 40% of adults think social care in England is working poorly or not at all, while 83% said the government should prioritise improving social care.
The report argues that the government should invest in social care, which, it says is “much cheaper than hospital care.” It also “helps unpaid carers to remain economically active.”
A new report published by the NHS AI Lab and Health Education England (HEE) is calling for all health and care staff to receive training in artificial intelligence (AI).
The Developing healthcare workers’ confidence in AI report argues that staff working with AI tools in clinical practice should receive additional specialist training. It breaks training requirements for AI down into five groups (“archetypes”), to recognise the varied roles undertaken in the NHS. The five archetypes – shapers, drivers, creators, embedders and users – will have different knowledge and skills requirements to confidently develop, implement or use AI technologies.
In a foreword to the review, Dr Eric Topol, author of the Topol Review into using digital technologies in the NHS, described the collaborative research from HEE and the NHS AI Lab as “a significant step forward in developing confidence in AI in the healthcare workforce.”
Telemedicine technology offers benefits in the screening, diagnosis, management treatment and long-term follow-up of chronic diseases, a new study has found.
The study, carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in collaboration with the Faculty of Health Sciences at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, notes that during the Covid pandemic, several countries began using digital methods to provide healthcare to patients. The authors looked at data from over 20,000 studies from 53 countries, and found “better clinical outcomes, better follow-up by health professionals and an overall benefit for both patients and health workers,” according to lead author David Novillo-Ortiz.
The study also identified barriers to adoption, including lack of internet access, health worker resistance, shortcomings in health workers’ knowledge of technology, heavy workloads and insufficient training. Some patients also showed resistance to telemedicine, the study found, preferring personal contact with health professionals.
There are 5.5m people on waiting lists for elective treatment, rather than the 7m that has been reported, according to NHS England.
In August, the Referral To Treatment (RTT) list had seven million entries, but Sir Jim Mackey, NHSE’s elective recovery chief, told the King’s Fund annual conference that the number of individuals was 5.5m, because 1.5m patients were on the list more than once. He said it was not clear how many were patients waiting for separate procedures, and how many were duplicates for the same pathway. He said he hoped a new NHSE project would provide clarity.
Sir Jim added that the NHS was on track to meet a target of making sure that, by March, there was no one on the list who had waited 78 weeks or more.