Responding to the government announcement on winter pressures, Dr Fiona Donald, President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists said:
“The announcement that the government will be releasing £700m of its previously pledged £5.4bn of NHS funding to help the NHS deal with winter pressures and to reduce the backlog is welcomed by the College. Increasing waiting lists, winter illnesses and the emergence of a new COVID variant means the next few months are sure to be tough. The funding for increased operating theatres, additional day units and surgical hubs will hopefully help to increase efficiency in hospitals and lead to patients getting the care they need sooner.
“While this is a positive action from the government in the face of unprecedented healthcare service pressures, unfortunately we again come back to the same barrier: gaps in the workforce. There are currently over 1,400 consultant anaesthetist posts vacant, and this is creating a bottleneck in the ability of hospitals to carry out operations. Upgrades in equipment and increasing space are one thing, but without the staff to provide the care for patients their impact will unfortunately be minimal.
“We urge the government to publish its strategy for elective care recovery as soon as possible, and lay out its long-term plans for dealing with workforce shortages in the NHS. Ultimately the biggest influence in increasing the capacity of hospitals to reduce the backlog is staff on the ground, and we currently are not seeing the action we need to increase them.”