Clear, long-term investment strategy needed to tackle planned care backlog

Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, responds to the Auditor General's report on the Planned Care Backlog in Wales.

31 May 2022

Responding to the Auditor General’s report on the Planned Care Backlog in Wales, Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said:

“This report makes clear the enormous scale of the challenge ahead and we welcome the Auditor General’s recommendations. NHS leaders are all too aware that these are not just statistics, but individual people’s lives and experiences.

“The NHS has been through and continues to go through the most challenging period in its history. The effects of the pandemic won’t go away overnight and, despite leaders and staff doing all they can to deliver services for the people of Wales, it will take many years to reach a healthier position.

“The Welsh NHS Confederation has long called for a clear and sustainable long term funding strategy for health and social care. One-off, ring-fenced injections of cash that are time-limited do not allow the NHS to make the necessary long-term investments in staff and capital required to meet the needs of the people of Wales. So many NHS estates are not fit for purpose, requiring redesign and new equipment, which has major implications on the physical capacity of the NHS and its ability to make inroads in planned care backlogs.

“Another key factor contributing to current pressures, alongside extremely high levels of demand, is the challenges facing social care. The sector is facing arguably more difficult workforce challenges than the NHS which is only being exacerbated by the tight labour market and the cost-of-living crisis. Without long term sustainable funding and impactful solutions in social care, the NHS will continue to experience problems discharging patients from hospital, hindering the NHS’ ability to address the planned care backlog.

“However, workforce is the number one limiting factor for NHS capacity. Without enough staff, the NHS is left with no option other than to think more creatively about how they deliver services. As the report points out, there is very limited private capacity to assist with tackling the planned care backlog.

“Recruiting and, as importantly, retaining exhausted staff, is a huge focus for NHS leaders. Improving wellbeing support for staff, upskilling and creating opportunities for more flexible working are all on the agenda, as are large scale recruitment strategies including international recruitment and widening access to careers in the NHS through programmes such as Kickstart.

“But these programmes and initiatives take time to have a tangible impact and we need to see things improve now to try to meet public expectation.”