Beating The Backlog - The scale of the challenge in 2024

20 May  •  NHS
Beating The Backlog - The scale of the challenge in 2024

The National Health Service (NHS) is one of the UK’s proudest achievements and is a benchmark for socialised healthcare solutions across the world. However, with an ageing population, an ever-growing shortage of skilled workers and additional stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHS is being stretched to its limit. This has resulted in a backlog across the NHS of above 7.5 million cases.

With more than 10% of the UK’s population stuck in the NHS backlog, it’s clear that the NHS needs to address this problem before it spirals out of control. In this article, we’re going to look at this issue, how it’s impacting patients, staff and NHS trusts, as well as what can be done to help beat this backlog.

The NHS backlog is a big problem

The NHS backlog is a problem that’s been growing for quite some time now. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHS was already facing significant concerns about patient care and waiting times as a result of a few key factors. The first issue is the ageing population in the UK, as these people are much more likely to use NHS services on a frequent basis. With over 3 million people in the UK over 80 years old, their care requires more resources dedicated to helping the elderly, particularly those with long-term conditions.

The other issue stems from a notable shortage of skilled workers to undertake roles in the NHS. At the moment, around 9% of job vacancies for the NHS remain unfilled, but the vacancy rate varies considerably depending on the profession. In essence, the NHS is struggling to bring in and retain key talent across the board. Without adequate staffing levels, the waiting list for NHS patients continues to grow.

Together, these problems have resulted in the NHS scaling down elective and routine healthcare services for patients. This is a large part of what has created such a hefty backlog in care. As of March 2024, NHS figures show that:

  • The waiting list stood at 7.54 million cases, consisting of approximately 6.29 million individual patients waiting for treatment
  • Around 3.23 million of these patients have been waiting over 18 weeks
  • Over 309,000 of these patients have been waiting over a year for treatment, about the same as the previous month (February 2024)
  • A median waiting time for treatment of 14.9 weeks – more than double the pre-COVID median wait of 6.9 weeks in March 2019

Solutions proposed to beat the NHS backlog

There are two main ways that the NHS intends to beat the growing backlog of patients - more funding and increased recruitment. In order to cut down on wait times, the NHS will need to invest heavily in several areas to bring patient waiting times down to pre-COVID levels. It must be a multi-targeted approach though, as the problems are stemming from different areas.

So the problem will require a more comprehensive suite of solutions to battle the backlog. Some other areas where the NHS can focus include:

  • Providing greater incentives for current staff to retain key talent, such as through bonuses or pay rises, as well as addressing staff burnout.
  • Looking abroad to recruit healthcare professionals from other countries to fill any gaps in staff.
  • Facilitating the return of retired healthcare professionals to work part-time or full-time.
  • Investing in new technology to optimise and streamline how patients are seen.

Some of this has already started, for example, the UK Government had spending of £181.7 bn in 2022/23 for the Department of Health and Social Care. The government announced an additional £2.5 billion of day-to-day revenue funding for the NHS in England in 2024/25 over what was planned last year.

How Globe Locums can help with staffing the NHS

As we’ve discussed, the NHS backlog won’t be beaten without a multitargeted approach that includes bringing in new staff from across the world to fill skilled positions in the NHS. At Globe Locums, we’re in a strong position to help with this through our work. We’ve spent years working in the healthcare recruitment industry with a specialism in locum healthcare, helping the NHS source highly skilled staff across a multitude of areas, from the UK, Europe and further afield. Our goal is to help the NHS beat their backlog as effectively as possible, ensuring that patients receive treatment in a much more timely manner.

It’s through our network of talented locums and recruiters that our team at Globe Locum can support the NHS, and that’s precisely what we aim to do. So if you require assistance with staffing requirements for healthcare, contact our specialists at Globe Locum today to find out how we can help.

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