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Health Secretary asked to review social distancing in primary care to help address backlog

by Jess Hacker
14 May 2021

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The NHS Confederation has called on the Health Secretary for a re-evaluation of social distancing measures in primary and secondary care settings to help manage the care backlog.

In a letter – published today (14 May) and signed by Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation – the organisation proposed a review of infection, prevention and control (IPC) guidance to safely increase patient numbers.

It said that with more than half of the UK adult population now vaccinated, the existing ‘stringent’ IPC guidance should be re-evaluated.

The Confederation said that it understands a review of the IPC is currently underway. It added that its members believe a ‘re-evaluation of overall risk in light of reduced levels of infection and associated actions required, such as social distancing requirements’ in healthcare settings could free up significant operational capacity.

NHS Confederation told Management in Practice this would include primary care. It also  stressed that patient safety is of utmost importance.

The IPC guidance was most recently amended in April 2021, which saw social distancing measures remain in place.

Mr Mortimer said that ‘now is the right time to look again at some of the rules including on social distancing and how PPE is used in order to help free up extra capacity across the NHS’.

Clear targets

In the letter, NHS Confederation outlined a series of further actions it believed would help the health service to user the coming summer months to make a ‘significant dent’ in the growing care backlog.

It said: ‘We believe that, under the right circumstances and with sufficient and effective funding, the NHS could make significant inroads to the waiting list challenge during, what our members are calling, the ‘summer of opportunity’.

It suggested that NHS England and Improvement should agree clear goals and targets with primary care, as well as trusts and systems, as it local leaders ‘best understand’ their communities’ health needs.

It said that as agile working requires ‘light touch regulation’, access to funding should not be undermined by ‘unnecessary assurance’, like daily reporting, which ‘gets in the way of’ care delivery.

The Confederation also said that the pandemic has seen ‘remarkable transformational gains’ such as system working during the pandemic, and it called for block payments to be maintained to help this to continue.

It will be ‘vital’ that funds are available to support primary care as it helps people to ‘wait well’ and manages the ‘fallout’ for patients who cannot receive elective treatment as planned, it said.