With patient backlog and staff shortages in NHS Wales growing to alarming heights, health boards across face an intense battle of attrition, but technology providers are offering support with a range of solutions such as teledermatology and virtual outpatient services
Waiting lists in Wales have been gradually increasing over recent years following the temporary postponement in 2020 of patient elective appointments, which allowed the NHS to focus on treating those seriously ill with COVID-19.
The dramatic increase of patients falling ill with Coronavirus resulted in an increase in the workload affecting NHS professionals, leaving many people exhausted and reflecting about the next steps in their working life.
And this has provided a knock-on effect on staff absence rates, as well as more of the workforce leaving the NHS altogether.
The collective impacts from these staff absences, and lingering effects of the pandemic, have been reflected in waiting lists across the NHS in Wales, with 743,229 pathways reported to be open in August 2022 – an increase of 91,389 compared to the previous year, or 286,881 compared to pre-pandemic levels.
According to the most-recent NHS figures, staff absence rates have also reached an all-time high of 7.3% with anxiety, stress, depression, and other psychiatric illnesses being the most-reported reason for sickness absence.
The pandemic also saw many staff members developing long COVID or other health conditions as a direct result of working closely with patients during the pandemic.
In addition, vacancies across NHS Wales have also risen by 69% with over 2,900 vacancies in nursing alone – the greatest proportion of vacancies across all NHS professionals.
And these workforce challenges cannot be resolved overnight. They will require a targeted and dedicated national strategy which will require several years of sustained focus to rebuild the workforce.
It is, therefore, important to consider the interim measures that can be put in place to support both patients and the already-overstretched workforce.
Earlier this year, the Welsh Government outlined its plans to tackle waiting lists by increasing capacity, transforming and modernising planned care, and prioritising diagnosis and treatment.
As part of this plan, it encourages NHS organisations to ‘partner with the independent sectors to develop new approaches and models of care’.
As an independent provider of NHS funded care, Xyla Elective Care is providing a short-medium term solution through its range of insourcing services while also delivering longer-term solutions such as digitally-enabled services and community based models of care.
Jana Meier, businesses development manager for Wales ay Xyla parent company, Acacium Group (pictured), said: “Providing tech-enabled solutions such as teledermatology and virtual outpatient services, can help us utilise the existing workforce in new and innovative ways.
“These services can help to clear the elective backlog which has been particularly exacerbated this winter, provide financial efficiencies, improve patient outcomes, and minimise the number of patients who are directed to secondary care.”
Insourcing provides a capacity solution by extending NHS services across seven days of the week.
It allows health boards to retain elective care and recovery in-house while providing a good oversight of service governance, utilisation, and operational monitoring.
“By establishing greater working relationships between the NHS and the independent sector, NHS organisations will benefit from the broad range of capacity levers which will help to decrease waiting lists and improve access to care,” said Meier.
“With the current strain on NHS Wales organisations continuing to grow, it’s vital that everything is done to alleviate pressures on workforces and deliver quality care for patients.
“As workforces slowly rebuild, independent sector partnerships become an even-more-pertinent part of this strategy for recovery.”