The NHS is accelerating the delivery of operations and other non-urgent services as part of a £8.1 billion plan to help the health service recover all patient services following the intense winter wave of COVID.
The money, which is set out in the NHS Operational Planning Guidance published today, will also fund more support for staff who may be impacted by their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.
Maternity services will be boosted by an additional £95million this year, including by creating new midwifery and obstetrician roles and providing more training and leadership programmes for midwives.
The focus on maternity comes alongside the publication of a new report today, reflecting on the progress made for women and their babies in England over the last decade with a 25% reduction in stillbirths since 2010 – ahead of the ambitious 20% target set for 2020.
The additional investment in routine, non-COVID services including maternity, follows more than a year of intense pressure that has seen more than 390,000 critically ill patients require hospital for the virus, and the NHS successfully roll out a world-leading vaccination programme to more than 25 million people already.
While waiting times for routine procedures fell significantly following the first April peak of COVID, more than 100,000 people were admitted with the virus in January 2021, at the peak of the winter wave, prompting additional disruption to services.
While Trusts, who do more operations and other elective procedures, will qualify for a share of a £1 billion pot.
The NHS is rolling out 40 mental health hubs to help staff recover and hospitals are being encouraged to recruit more healthcare and medical support workers to ease the burden on existing staff.
Average waiting times for non-urgent surgery have dropped by almost 40% since the summer, and the NHS will continue to increase the number of non-urgent operations it does.
Every Integrated Care System – groups of health and other agencies working together to deliver services – is being asked to draw up a plan to ensure all hospitals maximise their capacity to do as many non-urgent operations as possible.
And trusts will also be expected to reduce the number of patients waiting for longer than 62 days for cancer procedures to pre-pandemic levels over the coming months.
Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS said: “More than a year after the NHS treated this country’s first COVID patients hospitals have now treated 390,000 patients critically ill with the virus, including more than 100,000 in January alone.
“But they have also pulled out all the stops to treat millions of people with other conditions, and the whole of NHS is now mobilising to roll out the biggest vaccination campaign in history.
“The NHS made good use of the summer and autumn, when infections and hospitalisations were lower, to restore services and begin tackling the backlog.
“With infections once again now falling, this investment will help nurses, doctors and other staff go further and faster in realising the aims of the NHS Long Term Plan while supporting them as they do so.”
Professor Jackie Dunkley-Bent, NHS England’s Chief Midwifery Officer, said: “Thanks to the efforts of NHS staff, there have been huge improvements in maternity services for women in England over the last decade – from fewer still births and better post birth check-ups for new mums, to safely supporting the birth of up to 600,000 babies during the pandemic. Today’s report shows not just how safe it is to give birth in this country, but how we plan to make new and expectant mums’ experience of care better.
“The funding means we can build on and accelerate progress and make maternity services in England safer and better for women, babies and their families.”
The guidance also includes funding boost for mental health services with children and young people set to benefit from continued increases in access to community mental health services, and everyone will continue to benefit from beneficial changes made as part of the NHS COVID response, including 24/7 crisis mental health lines.
And more emphasis is being put on health inequalities, with every Integrated Care System expected to develop a list of health and care priorities that reflect the needs of their local population. Trusts will also analyse waiting times by ethnicity and deprivation to ensure equitable access to care.
In addition to being able to see their GP in person, patients will continue to be able to access GP appointments remotely as they have throughout the pandemic, with a further £10m of funding going towards video consultations.