Dr Tod Brindle, Global Medical Director for Mölnlycke, explains why delivering on the elective care recovery must not mean compromising on care quality, safety, or sustainability.

More than 7 million people – or 1 in 8 people in England – are currently waiting for treatment on the NHS, and given the continuing number of missing referrals, the hidden backlog of care could be considerably larger. The pressure to deliver is now higher than ever.

Behind these staggering statistics are real people’s stories. Every delayed surgery has its own consequences for a patient who cannot begin their recovery, and in many cases, will struggle to work. Moreover, delays to surgery can compound patients’ health issues, leading to avoidable harm and more complex treatments being required.

From my view within the healthcare field, I know how important delivering timely care is to patients, and the negative impact that every delayed procedure has, whether it be physical or emotional.

Tackling this backlog of elective care is one of the defining healthcare challenges of our time, and I am proud to have been part of Mölnlycke’s roundtable on Recovering Elective Care and the subsequent report, which explored the policy solutions that would help drive the recovery.

We know that in order to deliver elective recovery for the benefit of patients and the wider health service, we need to increase activity levels. However, I believe it is essential that this cannot mean compromising safety, quality, or sustainability.

There is huge pressure in the system to increase activity, and in these strained economic times, to deliver more with less. But ultimately, if economising means losing efficiencies and compromising on safety then this will be a false economy. I believe that by focusing on value across the longer-term and ensuring that value-based procurement delivers efficiencies for surgical teams, we can protect productivity.

“Maintaining high safety levels enables us to reduce infections, complications, and follow-up operations.”

At a time when health leaders are deeply concerned about staff burnout, it is imperative that the recovery from elective care is carried out in a way that supports the morale and professional development of our healthcare workers, as they are the most valuable part of our health system.

Unlocking efficiencies in the operating theatre and across the patient pathway can release time for clinicians, meaning that there is more time for them to participate in training, or simply to take proper rest breaks.

Ensuring that staff feel properly equipped and supported in their roles is central to delivering the recovery; and to ensuring that it is delivered to high levels of quality and safety.

It is only by focusing on quality and safety that we can deliver a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. Maintaining high safety levels enables us to reduce infections, complications, and follow-up operations.

By working closely with patients, through shared decision making, healthcare professionals can also help to deliver the elective recovery. Engaging patients actively in their care, through pre-habilitation, can help to reduce complications and lengths of stay, thereby reducing pressure on hospital capacity. Providing the patient with a sense of control through partnering with surgical teams to help mitigate modifiable risk factors, provides patient-centred care and transforms the current passive recipient paradigm.

“The pressure to increase activity must not negatively impact patient safety, but instead drive innovative approaches and a focus on quality.”

Likewise, improving outcomes through quality improvement programmes can help to drive down rates of surgical site infections, aiding patient recovery, and helping deliver cost – and time – savings for the NHS by preventing the need for costly follow-up treatments. Quality improvement allows trusts to test the implementation of best-practice recommendations within their specific standards of care, and more importantly, to challenge existing processes and procedures.

As Mölnlycke’s report sets out, the recovery from the pandemic must be built on a well-supported workforce, given the right training and tools for the job. The pressure to increase activity must not negatively impact patient safety, but instead drive innovative approaches and a focus on quality.

Similarly, we must engage our patients in their health, and ensure that they are as well prepared as possible for surgery and recovery. This work is not easy; indeed, it is one of the greatest healthcare challenges we face, but I hope that our recommendations go some way to supporting healthcare workers as they deliver safe and effective surgeries for patients who need them.

Request a copy of the Recovering Elective Care report here.