Call to fund extra capacity to protect the NHS

by Seamus Ward

22 June 2020

The NHS could be overwhelmed during a second surge of Covid-19 this winter if funding for additional capacity is withdrawn or scaled back, NHS Providers said.

Its warning adds to the growing calls for the government to ensure the NHS is protected by funding the Nightingale hospitals and extra capacity in the independent sector for an additional period.

Last week, Royal College of Surgeons president Derek Alderson said the NHS may need to use private providers and possibly repurpose the Nightingale hospitals as Covid-light sites to catch up the backlog in waiting lists. However, there were reports that the Treasury was questioning the value for money of a proposed deal with the independent sector.Chris Hopson landscape

NHS Providers said the government is due to decide this week on funding for the coming months. Three key decisions must be made, it added. As well as funding for the Nightingales and private provision, it highlighted the need for financial support for community and mental health services.

Community providers expect to see higher demand, with patients needing Covid-19 rehabilitation and care in the community. A rapid rise in coronavirus-related mental health issues is beginning to emerge and mental health trusts will need further funding to increase their capacity, NHS Providers added.

Chief executive Chris Hopson (pictured) said the decision, early in the outbreak, to fund the Nightingale units and additional private sector support was key to the success in containing the virus so the NHS was not overwhelmed.

He added: ‘The obstacles the NHS faced then were huge, but trust leaders believe the challenges ahead are even greater. Covid-19 remains a potent threat. In the coming months trusts will need to keep capacity to deal with a second surge, maintain strict infection control, continue to treat Covid patients and restore normal services such as routine operations.

‘Trusts are facing massive reductions in capacity – up to 40% in some cases – due to the need to separate Covid and non-Covid areas and create socially distanced wards and A&E departments.

‘Although the NHS has the same number of buildings and staff, these restrictions will mean many fewer operations, diagnostic tests and beds.’

Trusts’ forward planning warned there was a risk of a second wave coinciding with winter, when the NHS always struggles to cope with demand. Funding for additional capacity should be maintained until the end of the year, he said.

‘The last thing we should do now is start dismantling our defences, re-opening the risk of the health service being overwhelmed. This is the moment for the government to heed its own advice and continue protecting the NHS,’ Mr Hopson added.