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‘NHS facing winter-like pressures in summer’

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The NHS is facing an ‘unprecedented situation’ where the pressures it is experiencing in July is akin to the pressure it usually experiences in winter, a report has found.

The document, published this week by healthcare managers representative body NHS Confederation, outlined reports from members of ‘major spikes’ in demand across services.

Rising Covid-19 cases and uncertainty about the number of long Covid patients, coupled with a ‘sizeable backlog’ and rising demand in urgent care, means the NHS is ‘experiencing severe winter-like pressures in summer’, it concluded.

Senior NHS staff have urged the Government to start an ‘open conversation’ with public about the situation, which has seen some trusts declaring a ‘black alert’, which means they do not believe they can safely deliver services. This is almost unprecedented outside of a normal winter peak, the report added.

Primary care services in some parts of the country are being overwhelmed by the surge, particularly because of staffing issues due to illness and self-isolation. This means demand is ‘spilling over into all parts of the urgent care system’, the report also found.     

This increased workload is ‘hampering the efforts of NHS providers to address the major backlog of care that has built up during the pandemic’, it warned.

Meanwhile, an acute care manager described the pressure NHS organisations are under as the equivalent of ‘winter in summer’. Another NHS trust leader said: ‘Removing all Covid restrictions will likely result in further pressures extending to breaking point.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘A significant Covid surge this summer will place even more strain on an urgent care system struggling to cope, and this will have a direct and immediate impact on the care the NHS can provide to patients.

‘There is growing concern among NHS leaders that the rapidly rising demand for urgent and emergency care will threaten to slow down their attempts to recover the huge and rising elective care backlog.’

The report comes as the number of people on hospital waiting lists passed record figures for the second month in a row, with official figures this month showing it now stands at 5.3m. Waiting list figures topped five million for the first time in data released in June.

Responding to the data, Nuffield Trust charity chief executive Nigel Edwards said: ‘The new health secretary has stated that tackling the NHS backlog is a top priority for him, but with the risk of 100,000 new covid cases a day within the next few weeks, there will be an inevitable and significant demand for Covid-19 hospital beds.

‘Efforts to catch up on waiting lists will be slowed, and more people will sadly end up waiting even longer for the care they need.’

Also this week, a charity warned the health service is facing a care ‘timebomb’ after almost 2.5m people with diabetes in England went without vital health checks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Practitioners also told Nursing in Practice last month that nurses could be facing a ‘tsunami’ of long Covid cases, making it vital for primary care to have more resources to cope.