The RCP has submitted written evidence to the health and social care select committee’s inquiry on the clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic.
The Committee’s inquiry tries to understand the level of demand that has built up since March 2020 for key healthcare services and considers ‘whether fundamental changes to the organisation and delivery of NHS services will be required to manage the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic.’
The RCP’s response sets out workforce capacity as the key limiting factor in tackling backlogs and keeping pace with patient demand in the long-term. It calls for urgent action to expand the medical workforce, including through doubling medical school places.
The submission makes the following recommendations:
- Workforce capacity is the key limiting factor in tackling backlogs and keeping pace with patient demand in the longterm. Government must take steps to expand the medical workforce, including through doubling medical school places, and the Health and Care Bill should be amended to include provisions for biennial, independently verified assessments of future health and care workforce requirements to be published.
- Virtual outpatient appointments should become the norm – barring specific circumstances – given the favourable patient view towards them and the appetite among physicians to embed this way of working. To facilitate this, the NHS must ensure that clinicians have access to the right equipment to deliver remote care.
- The delivery of diagnostic services in the community through “diagnostic hubs” should be expanded to enable people to receive multiple tests at the same time closer to where they live, freeing up capacity in hospitals.
- System design needs to enable clinicians to access patient information and data more easily to avoid patients repeating information in different parts of the system and to enable clinicians to more easily diagnose.
- In order to facilitate innovation, the Department of Health and Social Care should ensure the NHS health and care workforce has the right capacity in place, to reduce pressure and allow more time for staff to take part in research and other activities that drive innovation.
RCP president Dr Andrew Goddard also gave oral evidence to the committee alongside president of the Royal College of Surgeons in England Professor Neil Mortensen and president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Dr Katherine Henderson.
In this session, the RCP president reiterated the points about needing a strong workforce. He said:
“It is fine having physical beds, but if you have no staff you cannot run them. The Nightingale hospitals that we saw during the pandemic were fantastic. We managed to get all of that up and running, but there were not enough staff, so we could not use those beds. We have to be very careful moving forward when we think about how to manage the backlog. We must ensure that we do not just create physical space. It is human resource that is most important.”
“We need a coherent plan where all the parts of the system are seen to be working together to solve the problems. But it comes back to the workforce. The thing that worries me and frightens me the most at the moment is that 27% of consultant physicians say that they are going to retire in the next three years. We have workforce problems now, but they are going to get worse.”