Community healthcare: a vital support when the NHS needs it
In the past ten years, NHS waiting lists have jumped by nearly 300%. From 2.5 million in 2013, there are now roughly 7.2 million people waiting for hospital treatment in England. More than that, the number of those waiting 18 weeks or more has mushroomed as the COVID-19 pandemic and regional inequalities exacerbate existing backlogs. To move forward in cutting down these backlogs, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to make the reduction waiting lists one of the five fundamental tenets of his government’s policy.
There’s little doubt around the importance of tackling waiting lists. The question now is how this aim can be achieved. Naturally, there is no single solution to backlogs, and their reduction will come only through a complex and versatile approach; yet one core element of this approach must be reinforcement. Through partnership with community healthcare providers, such as eyecare provider CHEC, the NHS can begin to get ahead of waiting lists through the support of localised, quality services. With ophthalmology accounting for the country’s second highest level of backlogs, such community eyecare providers play a vital part in delivering ongoing services and working to treat the 628,500 currently waiting for eye care.
A helping hand
Community healthcare providers work in tandem with the NHS to ensure that backlogs don’t preclude patients from receiving prompt and comprehensive care. Partnered with the NHS, these localised health providers receive referrals from the health service and can thereby deliver targeted treatment to the individuals most in need while simultaneously tackling the broader backlog issue. Crucially, all of this is free of charge to the patient, meaning that anyone can access provisions regardless of their resources.
In particular, community healthcare provides a buttress for the NHS in treatments where waiting lists are high. As it stands, recent reports show that hundreds of patients have been left with permanent eye damage as a result of delays in eye care treatment. Independent health care providers such as CHEC now carry out 38.6% of eye surgeries, up from 23.3% before the pandemic. Moreover, independent providers have the capacity to respond to growing backlogs in other specialisms by diversifying their offerings. In 2022, for example, CHEC announced the launch of its endoscopy services to mitigate the decline in endoscopy procedures, which had taken place since 2020.
Addressing regional inequalities
A key benefit of community healthcare providers is their localised nature, making them ideal for tackling the regional disparities prevalent in the UK’s health service. This inequality, a significant aggravator for national backlogs, is evident from the fact that, while only 17% of patients in Northumbria have been waiting over 18 weeks to start treatment, that number is 60% in Birmingham, 20% above the UK’s average.
Not only does CHEC provide eyecare treatment – a specialism which suffers from the second longest waiting list in the UK – but the eyecare provider also aims to direct provisions at those regions most troubled by backlogs. Last year, the organisation opened up a centre in Gateshead in reaction to the severe eyecare waiting lists seen in that area and in the nearby Newcastle, which at the time amounted to 14,000. While a nationwide acceleration of healthcare services would undoubtedly help towards reducing backlogs, it is the targeted distribution of key treatments that will be vital if Britain is to fully overcome our long waiting lists.
What CHEC has to offer
With NHS waiting lists growing rapidly, it’s easy to forget that these statistics are more than just numbers; yet recent reports of the sight loss caused by eyecare backlogs makes it abundantly clear that medical delays translate to very real impacts on individuals. With waiting times ranging from 1-4 weeks CHEC offers support for the NHS in reducing not only these quantitative backlogs, but also the effect they have on the quality of people’s lives.
CHEC, and other local healthcare providers like it, have the resources and capacity to provide reliable, quality healthcare when and where the NHS needs it most. Indeed, the quality of CHEC’s offering was put in the spotlight recently when the organisation’s centre in Stoke received an “outstanding” rating from the Care Quality Commission. By providing such care, community healthcare providers offer a vital component to the complex task of solving Britain’s healthcare crisis.