The elective backlog will further impact the staff wellbeing crisis, but better population health management can help to reduce the pressure on staff

17 May 2021 | 2 min read

Andy Branch, Head of Projects

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the wellbeing and mental health of NHS staff and an increasing backlog of elective care will only add to the challenges in tackling it. A recent report on the impact of COVID-19 on staff working in intensive care, plus analysis of the NHS Staff Survey by the Nuffield Trust, have highlighted issues including staff returning to work despite not feeling well enough to do so.

An investigation in Wales showed staff with long COVID were being threatened with formal warnings and feared facing dismissal for taking too much time off work and a survey by NHS Charities Together reported that just above half of the staff who took part said their mental health had declined since the start of the pandemic, with two thirds reporting anxiety and a third reporting depression.

Ensuring exhausted staff can recover and feel supported will be one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS. However, the elective backlog will pile pressure on our healthcare systems and reducing it could take years. Recent figures show that the number of patients waiting more than a year for treatment has risen 240 fold since February 2020 and now stands at a 14 year high. In total, more than 4.5 million people have currently waited too long to be treated.

Preventative health is key to reducing further pressure on acute care

Increasingly, discussions about the known backlog and the unmet need during the COVID crisis are drawing attention. To make a real difference in the long term though, we must stay on top of future demand. Better population health management, reaching groups of people who are at risk of developing health conditions that will require treatment, putting in place joined up support through relevant agencies as well as providing lifestyle advice where necessary, will be vital in helping to reduce pressures on the acute sector.

Combining data from agencies such as housing, social services and community health can provide a picture of the health of the community and reveal the areas of the community that could benefit from more proactive care and extra resources.

Good population health management involving cross-partnership working can put the building blocks in place for a healthier society, highlighting where health inequalities exist, such as the need for more and better housing or improved communication about health risks within different communities or cohorts of people.

Dr Foster’s expert analysts can deep dive into the collected data to provide increased vision, revealing specific areas where extra care can make the biggest difference, helping to decide where resources are best used. Such specific detail can aid greater planning for the future and increase the quality of life for many, while also reducing pressures on the NHS and its staff in the months and years to come.