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Call for digital triage system to tackle NHS waiting list backlog

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Remote consultation solutions provider eConsult said the UK government needs to invest in a digital triage system to get the right patients to the right point of care, unclog the healthcare system and increase efficiency.

This comes after the Health and Social Care Committee published its report on clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic on Thursday (January 6).

It found that a long-term plan to fix the staffing crisis in the NHS is needed to cut record waiting lists for treatment. And warned that the health service was hugely understaffed and facing an ‘unquantifiable challenge’ in tackling the backlog.

As of September 2021, a record 5.8m patients were waiting for surgery, with 300,000 waiting more than a year, compared with 1,600 before the pandemic.

Dr Murray Ellender, practising GP and co-founder of digital triage provider eConsult said the only way to fix the NHS waiting list backlog is to give patients a more direct route to the right care.

“This news shows why the government must deliver on its £5.9bn funding promise announced in the Autumn Budget to create a digital ecosystem that improves patient outcomes.

“The fact is the only way to fix the NHS waiting list backlog is to give patients a more direct route to the right care.

“For example, data from eConsult shows that nearly half of UK adults who visited the emergency room in the last 12 months did not actually require urgent A&E treatment.

“This is a problem that can be solved by investing in digital triage which gets the right patients to the right point of care, unclogging the healthcare system and increasing efficiency.”

In the autumn budget, the government announced an extra £5.9bn for the NHS in England to help clear the backlog.

The committee welcomed the funding but noted that NHS England was yet to publish ‘how it plans to meet its workforce requirements’, despite this being promised by health secretary Sajid Javid by the end of November.

The report said many NHS staff were feeling under pressure and could quit unless they saw the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ of more staff coming.

Health and Social Care Committee chair Jeremy Hunt is calling on the government to draw up a recovery plan for services by April.

“The NHS faces an unquantifiable challenge in tackling a backlog of cases caused by the pandemic, with 5.8m patients waiting for planned care and estimates that the figure could double by 2025.  

“However, our report finds that the government’s recovery plans risk being thrown off course by an entirely predictable staffing crisis.

“The current wave of Omicron is exacerbating the problem, but we already had a serious staffing crisis, with a burnt-out workforce, 93,000 NHS vacancies and no sign of any plan to address this.   

“Far from tackling the backlog, the NHS will be able to deliver little more than a day to day firefighting unless the government wakes up to the scale of the staffing crisis facing the NHS, and urgently develops a long-term plan to fix the issue.” 

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