THE NHS will take months to return to normal as the workforce are traumatised and exhausted over the fight against coronavirus, a senior hospital trusts boss said today.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS providers, said that staff may go on long-term sick leave or quit as a result of not being allowed to decompress from working during the pandemic.
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“There’s potentially quite a tension between giving staff who are completely exhausted the space and support they need to recover, and at the same time the NHS recovering the backlogs of care that have built up, particularly in the hospital sector,” Hopson told the Guardian.
He added that MPs or patients should not expect nor put pressure on the NHS to immediately resume treatments because it is “not possible”.
Thousands of treatments, including cancelled surgeries, which have been postponed since last March, will take time to return to normal, Hopson said.
According to the Guardian almost 4.5million people in England are waiting for hospital care, the highest number on record.
These treatments should in theory take 18 weeks to get through.
However, the continued disruption to the NHS because of the pandemic means that waiting times have increased.
Hopson, whose organisation represents 240 NHS trusts in England, said that what chief executives need to focus on will be balancing the need to give staff space to recover and to catch up with delayed treatments.
“We cannot expect the NHS to carry on at the intensity we’ve been running at,” he said.
“We’ve completely run the tank dry and need to give people the chance to recover.”
Hopson has urged the Government to come up with a “clear set of expectations about what the public can expect over the next few months.”
He added: “It’s striking how many NHS staff on TV recently have said things like ‘I feel broken’ or ‘I feel burned out.’”
A survey, conducted by the British Medical Association in December, found that of 7,000 doctors 28% are more likely to retire early while 21% are more likely to leave the NHS for another career.
NHS did not reply to Hopson’s comments but instead a spokesperson said: “Pressures on NHS staff through the pandemic have been both intense and unrelenting, and the welfare of our workforce is critical to ongoing patient care.
“During the first wave of the pandemic, more than 400,000 NHS workers accessed the NHS’s staff health and wellbeing programme, and clearly this support needs to continue and to expand.”
Meanwhile, an NHS boss revealed that Covid will be “much more treatable” in the next six months.
Sir Simon Stevens said while coronavirus deaths are “highly concentrated” in older age groups, more young people are needing hospital care.
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The NHS England chief also warned a quarter of hospital admissions for coronavirus are people under the age of 55.
Sir Simon told MPs on Wednesday: “The first half of the year, vaccination is going to be crucial.
“I think a lot of us in the health service are increasingly hopeful that the second half of the year and beyond we will also see more therapeutics and more treatments for coronavirus.”