As waiting times increase for patients the government must look for a sustainable plan to reduce waiting times rather than a superficial solution which avoids getting to the root causes of delays.
There are some factors that are particularly important in achieving and sustaining waiting list reductions. A sustained focus on the task, an understanding of the nature of waiting lists and how they form part of a whole system of care and the importance of detailed information, analysis, forecasting, monitoring and planning the development of appropriate capacity.
The decisions taken on priorities post Covid must take account of both the challenges and opportunities which face the health care system as a whole. Increased elective activity has an impact on other services, for example bed availability for elective care will reduce bed availability for emergency admissions. Subsequently this impacts rehabilitation and discharge services.
We have to be realistic, making any sustainable improvements into waiting lists will take time. There is no easy or quick fix. One of the major obstacles is capacity and staffing levels. Any strategy to reduce waiting times must look at workforce growth as a priority. Alongside this is the need for adequate facilities and equipment. In reality a strategy to effectively manage and reduce waiting lists is a long term goal which requires analytical support.
Of course this all takes funding and our health services both north and south have been starved of this for a long time. However, funding is not the only key element, the need to increase productivity is essential. One of the most successful elements of improving waiting list times for the NHS during the 2000s was day-case surgery which dramatically decreased both waiting times and spending. In addition it saw an improved use of resources. It is these types of initiatives that we must look at to address the waiting times issue.
Our healthcare systems north and south are capable of innovation as we have witnessed with the vaccine rollout. It is vital that we use an innovative strategy to tackle waiting lists sustainably, taking a holistic approach rather than just a superficial one which will leave us open to ending up back at square one in no time.
The strategy must look at pathways, ageing populations, long-term conditions, staffing, resources and community care to allow the system to plan ahead and ensure that patients receive the treatment they need while equally ensuring staff are not over stretched. Integrated care remains one of the top priorities for the healthcare system. Without this we are simply ignoring the fact that the majority of patients require a joined up health care approach across departments. We also face the very difficult challenge of caring for our elderly when the majority of services are provided by private companies. Ultimately we require action and vision from our government to make a real difference to the health system, not simply scratch the surface to improve statistics to make them look competent.