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Returning the NHS to an even keel

The scale of the challenge facing the NHS after the first wave of COVID-19 in England is only just coming to light. The NHS adapted at speed to redeploy staff, change estate configurations, reduce non-COVID-19 face-to-face appointments and redesign patient pathways.

As part of the Health and Social Care Select Committees inquiry into ‘Delivering Core NHS and Care Services during the Pandemic and Beyond’ Professor Andrew Goddard has been asked to give oral evidence to the select committee on 30 June. In the session, Professor Goddard will discuss the RCP’s new briefing ‘Returning the NHS to an even keel’ which provides insight into the challenges facing medical specialties. This briefing is in addition to the RCP’s earlier evidence to the committee.

It shows that almost half of physician specialities, including cardiology, gastroenterology and rheumatology, expect to be working at less than previous pre-COVID activity levels for at least 12 months or more. The Royal College of Physicians asked medical specialties to estimate what capacity they expect to be working at over the next 12 months compared with pre-COVID-19 activity levels. Eight of them expect to be working under capacity for the foreseeable future.

The briefing captures several aspects of restarting activity including specialty capacity, adaptations to services, co-dependencies. It also provides an insight into potential capacity scenarios in genitourinary medicine and rheumatology.

Speaking about the launch of the briefing Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians said:

'We cannot underestimate the extent of the work that still lies ahead for the NHS workforce, and the very real possibility of further COVID-19 outbreaks and additional waves, which would of course increase the challenge ahead.

'Medical specialities are doing their utmost to keep up with demand, and will need the ongoing support of NHS England the Department of Health and Social Care to get services back on an even keel.

'In the short to medium term it is likely that doctors will need to further prioritise care, as they have always done, to respond to the reduced capacity levels across the NHS.

'We also need to be honest with patients that things will take longer and that we are working as hard as possible to restore services to pre-pandemic levels.

'The public can also play a critical role by following social distancing guidance which will keep COVID-19 infection rates down allowing services to focus on the recovery of normal NHS business.'