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Activity tracker to 'shine a light' on how NHS is recovering services

A new NHS activity tracker has been launched to show how trusts and staff are working to raise levels of routine care while also managing the continuing Covid-19 crisis.
The chief executive of NHS Providers wants to change the conversation to focus less on how NHS activity has fallen and more on how it is being recovered (Picture: PA Media)

The Restoring services: NHS activity tracker from NHS Providers aims to collect the growing evidence of the way hospitals and staff are developing to improve capacity, prepare for additional winter pressures and continue to provide non-Covid care.

Performance figures released by NHS England suggest that ambulance activity, urgent and emergency care and A&E attendances are increasing month on month. Routine operations have begun to take place across the UK again, with 51% more operations occurring in July than in June.

Cancer care, the subject that Peterborough MP Paul Bristow raised in the House of Commons this week, has been impacted by Covid-19 – but in July nearly 100,000 more people attended an outpatient appointment following a GP referral for suspect cancer compared to April.

The latest data, according to the restoring services activity tracker, shows that 90.4% of patients with an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer were seen within two weeks. Although this does miss the 93% standard, it shows that Trusts have worked hard to maintain performance despite the challenges.

Mr Bristow asked for an update from the Department of Health and Social care on the work being done by to "ensure that all areas of the NHS are able to carry out screening programmes" and to "reassure people that it’s safe to attend these screening tests".

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, told the Commons in his reply: "We’re tackling that backlog, it’s down by about half and… I’m very happy to work with my honourable friend and all others in this House to make sure that people get the early diagnosis of cancer which can so often be life-saving."

Covid-19 has added many challenges to the routine of NHS staff, including: 

  • the need to wear and change personal protective equipment has reduced the amount of surgical and patient facing time
  • social distancing has meant a loss of waiting room and bed capacity in many settings
  • deep and more frequent cleaning of physical equipment (and even ambulances and emergency vehicles) has limited time and patient capacity

The NHS Providers chief executive, Chris Hopson, said: "Much of the public commentary over the last few months has focused on how far NHS activity has fallen. Very little of it has focused on how hard NHS frontline staff are working to recover services and how rapidly they are succeeding.

"Every trust leader recognises that Covid-19 has forced the delay of some treatments to patients and that this has significant impact for patients and their families. No-one underestimates the huge challenge this poses for the NHS.

"But we also owe it to frontline NHS staff to recognise their hard work, their ingenuity and their persistence in overcoming a set of wicked constraints – lost beds, lost patient and surgical time, lost diagnostic test slots – because of the unavoidable need to protect patients from COVID-19.

"As our new briefing shows, frontline staff are working just as hard, and being just as innovative, as they were in the first COVID-19 peak earlier this year. Chief executives tell us that they are recovering activity levels significantly faster than they were expecting to, just two or three months ago.

"Trust leaders worry that the current unrelenting focus on what the NHS is unable to do, as opposed to how rapidly it is recovering services, is also discouraging patients from coming forward to seek help when they need it.

"The NHS is there for all patients, whatever their need. Trusts are going as fast as they can to treat the same number of patients as they were before the pandemic hit, despite the constraints they face. Our new project will shine a light on some of the incredible things trusts are doing up and down the country to make this happen."

The September edition of the Restoring services: NHS activity tracker can be found here.