Introduction – Andrew Crawshaw, Director for Performance and Delivery, NHS England North West
Over the last 12 months, NHS staff across the North West region have again gone above and beyond in their efforts to deal with not only the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the drive to restore waiting times for patients, but also challenges with urgent care. It’s a year since the national elective recovery plan was published, which set out a blue print for NHS teams to bring down the waiting lists that had built up as a result of the pandemic.
We entered the pandemic in the North West in a challenging position, with people in our region experiencing some of the worst health in the country, which was reflected in growing demand and waiting lists for a variety of treatments. The national plan set ambitious targets for those who had been waiting longest, however at the same time our services were facing an increase in demand from people who had been holding off coming forward during the pandemic.
Activity across the board is now improving, thanks to the hard work of staff, as well as the introduction of tele-health and other digital services and changing how we work. Just to give you a flavour, 3.7 million people had an appointment at a GP practice in November, which is 24% higher than pre-pandemic levels in March 2019; also in November, 294,000 diagnostic tests were carried out, which is 12% more than in January last year, when we started to come out of the pandemic; 307,000 first outpatient appointments were carried out in November, which is 14% more than in January; and inpatient day case appointments went up by 20% to 84,000 in November.
The scale of innovation and transformation has been impressive and I think this further illustrates the determination of NHS staff in all areas to do what’s best for patients.
Teams have accelerated the introduction of urgent community response services, so that there is now full regional coverage of the service, with 3,135 referrals received in November. Colleagues in Greater Manchester have already exceeded plans to roll out virtual ward services. Across Cheshire and Merseyside an extra 2,600 patients per month are getting to see a cancer specialist in hospital following an urgent referral from their GP compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic. The Lancashire and South Cumbria Cardiac Network in collaboration with the Community Diagnostic Centre (CDC) team, ran a system wide ‘echo-thon’, with the aim of delivering an additional 800 echocardiographs over eight weekends, which took 12 per cent of people off the waiting list in just two months.
On top of that we’ve so far received national funding of £130 million for 13 surgical hubs, which are expected to provide more than 137,800 additional procedures and appointments a year once fully operational. We also now have 13 community diagnostic hubs across the North West and there are plans for further sites across Cheshire and Merseyside, and Greater Manchester.
The establishment of the Integrated Care Boards means that we will see closer integration of services at Place level, which will benefit patients and further support recovery. Our response as a region to the pandemic, the roll-out of the vaccine programme and the challenges of winter pressures shows that there is value in us working collectively.
In my position as part of the regional team for NHS England I can see across the North West and all the work that’s being done by our NHS teams, and it is inspirational. There is no doubt that we’ve got challenges with achieving the targets in the national plan for patients who have waited more than 78 weeks and for those needing an urgent cancer referral. However, I know NHS teams are doing all they can to make sure people are treated as quickly as possible.
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