At the start of the pandemic all but the most urgent surgery was suspended to allow the NHS to prepare for the peak of Covid-19, leaving a substantial backlog of elective cases, some of which are desperately urgent.
It was encouraging that on May 14 the NHS announced its road map to safely bring back routine operations, focusing on how to prevent the risk of infection as Covid and non-Covid delivery of care systems run alongside each other.
But patients and NHS staff need more than guidelines. There is now an urgent need for NHS England and the government to develop a full scale, realistic plan, backed by adequate funding and resources, to allow “reserve” capacity in health and social care, so that future Covid-19 surges (or other crises) can be absorbed without resorting to stopping routine NHS activity.
Anaesthetists have played, and continue to play, a critical role in the care of the most severe cases of Covid-19. Their training and skill set has made them the ideal choice for redeployment to intensive care units and supporting their colleagues during the peak of the pandemic. Anaesthetists will also be key to the resumption of planned surgery.
We support the Royal College of Anaesthetists’ recommendation for a sustainable and comprehensive approach to restoring services, which must take into account the availability of equipment, space, testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and all other resources required to ensure the safety of both patients and healthcare staff.
In May, the college surveyed its membership to understand the pressures they are facing during the pandemic and to ascertain how ready anaesthetists and hospitals are to resume planned activity.
The findings of the survey are concerning. Over one third of anaesthetists have little confidence in their hospitals’ preparedness to restart non-Covid NHS services.
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