The emergency is officially over – but COVID-19 management remains key to NHS recovery
Pfizer UK's John McGinley explains how a flexible approach to COVID-19 management can offer the best outcomes for patients and the NHS.
This content has been developed and paid for by Pfizer UK.
In the three years since the pandemic began, health services across the UK have been tested to the limit. COVID-19 capacity pressures meant all but urgent non-COVID-19 care had to be cancelled and so health services today still face a significant backlog.
The recovery of core services and productivity is the NHS’s immediate priority in 2023/24.1
Although there have been major improvements across long waits, urgent and emergency services and cancer care,2 the latest data show NHS England has been unable to hit key targets to eliminate 18-month waits for planned care3 and bring 62-day cancer waits to pre-pandemic levels.4
While we are past the worst of the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to affect the NHS
In December 2022 alone, NHS absences data reveal the equivalent of more than 230,000 days were lost due to COVID-19 across the health service.5 Research released by the BBC in 2023 also found that between 5,000 and 10,000 NHS staff across the UK could be off work with long COVID-19.6
Thousands of patients continue to be hospitalised weekly with COVID-19 in England.7 With the next COVID-19 peak projected this summer,8 it is important to remain vigilant and consider whether we are collectively doing all we can to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on our health service.
COVID-19 continues to pose a threat to those at greatest risk
Although the threat of COVID-19 may have passed for many of us, thanks largely to vaccines and treatments, this is not the case for some vulnerable people.9
It’s been over 12 months since the Government introduced its ‘Living with COVID-19’ strategy,10 designed to enable the country to manage COVID-19 much like any other respiratory illness. However, as Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus (Director-General of the World Health Organization) has warned, this is not the time to let down our guard.11 We should remain alert to who is most at risk, and continue to be guided by the science in our response.
We must be flexible in our approach to COVID-19 management
While progress has been made to recover health services post-pandemic, and measures are in place for those most at risk, continued collaboration and dialogue is key to ensuring the most effective, ongoing response to COVID-19. It is important that we are flexible in our approach through recognising potential threats identified via disease surveillance and responding accordingly, including deploying all of the tools that are already at our disposal.
As we seek to maintain progress through this challenging phase of COVID-19 management and health service recovery, all stakeholders must build on the collaboration that was critical at the height of the pandemic. Together, we can continue to ensure the most effective and appropriate response for patients – and minimise the impact on the NHS.
Date of preparation: June 2023
1. NHS. 2023/24 priorities and operational planning guidance. Available from: www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/PRN00021-23-24-priorities-and-operational-planning-guidance-v1.1.pdf [Last accessed: June 2023]
2. NHS. NHS cuts longest waits and speeds-up response times. Available from: https://www.england.nhs.uk/2023/05/nhs-cuts-longest-waits-and-speeds-up-response-times. [Last accessed: June 2023]
3. NHS. May 2023 – Information on patients waiting longer than 78 weeks to start consultant-led elective care at the end of March 2023. Available from: https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2023/05/2023-05-11_78ww_End-Mar-23_Reported_Position_V1.0-1.xlsx [Last accessed: June 2023]
4. NHS. Cancer Waiting Times – National Time Series Oct 2009 - Apr 2023 with Revisions. Available from: https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2023/06/Cancer-Waiting-Times-National-Time-Series-Oct-2009-Apr-2023-with-Revisions.xlsx [Last accessed: June 2023]
5. NHS Digital. NHS sickness absence rates, COVID-19 related absence, December 2022, Monthly data text file. Available from: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/CD/F3C1C4/NHS%20Sickness%20Absence%2C%20COVID-19%20related%20absence%20CSV%2C%20December%202022.csv [Last accessed: June 2023]
6. BBC News. Thousands of NHS staff with long Covid risk losing their pay. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-64405899 [Last accessed: June 2023]
7. GOV.UK. Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK. Available from: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/healthcare?areaType=nation&areaName=England [Last accessed June 2023]
8. UCL. Long-term forecasting of the COVID-19 epidemic. Available from: www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/spm/covid-19/forecasting/ [Last accessed: June 2023]
9. GOV.UK People urged to get COVID-19 jab before offer ends. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/people-urged-to-get-covid-jab-before-offer-ends [Last accessed: June 2023]
10. GOV.UK. COVID-19 response: Living with COVID-19. Available from: www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-response-living-with-covid-19. [Last accessed June 2023]
11. World Health Organization. WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing – 5 May 2023. Available from: www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing---5-may-2023. [Last accessed June 2023]
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