The Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) has cautioned the government against re-organising the health service before it has had time to recover from the pandemic.
Responding to the white paper on integration and innovation, published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last week, the RCoA is “worried that reorganisation will take priority over recovery”.
The College pointed to the latest NHS waiting times figures, which show that at the end of December 2020, more than 200,000 patients had been waiting more than a year for surgery - an increase from 192,000 in the previous month. More than 4.52 million people are now waiting for an operation.
The number of patients referred to treatment within the 18-week statutory period declined from 68.2 per cent in November to 67.8 per cent in December.
Professor Ravi Mahajan, RCoA President, said the College welcomes plans to focus away from competition towards collaboration. However, given the current pressures on the NHS, he called on the government to set out a realistic timetable for delivering reforms.
“The integration of services should help the NHS become more financially efficient, but fundamentally it requires the right number of staff, in the right place, at the right time. We are currently a long way from those conditions being met,” he said.
“The governments’ white paper is a step in the right direction, but we must tread slowly. The benefits of changes will be lost if there is a disconnect with what local NHS services need - clinicians must be central to any reforms. Without tackling the core drivers of safe and efficient care, including long-term workforce planning, any re-organisation of services is likely to have little effect on patient care.”