This site is intended for health professionals only

NHS facing winter surge ‘in the middle of the summer’

by Jess Hacker
9 July 2021

Share this article

NHS staff have called on the Government to make the public more aware of the ‘unprecedented situation’ that has left NHS services experiencing ‘winter in summer’ footfall.

The NHS Confederation this week said that its members from across primary and secondary care are reporting ‘major spikes in demand’.

It said that a number of trusts have declared ‘black alerts’, meaning they are unable to safely deliver services to patients, which in turn is ‘overwhelming primary care in some parts of the country’.

It added that the result is patients ‘spilling over into all parts of the urgent care system’. They should instead be urged to use phone and online consultations to reduce demand on A&E departments.

The NHS Confederation said that service users will be attuned to the winter pressures the NHS faces every year, but will be less familiar with ‘this phenomenon happening in the middle of the summer’.

System struggling

Reports from members of the Confederation, including GP practice staff, ‘paint a picture of a system struggling to cope with a challenging triple task’, it said.

The triple task includes managing escalating demand for service and reducing the elective care backlog, while managing the ongoing Covid-19 threat which has forced services to operate under reduced or limited capacity.

This is compounded by an estimated 80,000 staff shortage across the NHS, it added.

It said: ‘Senior NHS staff are urging the Government to start an open conversation with the public about the unprecedented situation which has left urgent care services experiencing the kind of patient footfall they would expect in January not July.’

This comes as the latest GP Patient Survey revealed that 42% of patients avoided making a GP appointment in the last 12 months, with one-in-five (20%) saying they did so because they were worried about burdening the NHS.

Meanwhile, the latest NHS performance statistics showed that the waiting list for NHS treatment has reached 5.3 million people.

Immediate impact on care

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said that a summer Covid surge will place even more pressure on an urgent care system ‘struggling to cope’, with a ‘direct and immediate’ impact on patient care.

‘Many of our organisations are running far too hot and are much busier than they have historically been at this time of year,’ he said.

‘Our staff are also exhausted after a gruelling 18 months, yet a huge demand for healthcare has left the NHS buckling under the strain of running a winter-like service in summer.’

Current SAGE predictions suggest that Covid infections will rise to 50,000 a day within the next two weeks, possibly doubling to 100,000 within a month.

‘The NHS has been working at full pelt to reinstate services and get patients back through its doors as quickly as possible, with operations and other activity at 90% of pre-pandemic levels,’ Mr Taylor added.

‘However, there is growing concern among NHS leaders that the rapidly rising demand for urgent and emergency care will threaten to slow down their attempts to recover the huge and rising elective care backlog.’

Backlog for care

Monthly data published yesterday (8 July) by NHS England show that the waiting list for NHS treatment in England topped 5.3 million, breaking the national record for the second month in a row.

The waiting list for elective care has grown by 606,501 people over the last three months.

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at the King’s Fund, said: ‘Even as the country emerges from the pandemic and more restrictions are lifted, the crisis is far from over for health and care services and exhausted staff.’

She said a ‘coherent national strategy’ is urgently needed to balance the pressures.

‘The NHS has improved patient care by successfully tackling mammoth waiting lists before,’ she added.

‘But to achieve this again the NHS will need time, resources and a credible workforce plan.’