Top five tips for tackling NHS capacity challenges and patient waiting lists

While normality is returning post-pandemic, the NHS has been left with a waiting list of 6.1 million people for non-urgent operations. Two years’ worth of stress on NHS staff has meant that workforce wellbeing has reached crisis point in some areas. Effective workforce management will be key to tackling the backlog and easing the pressure on staff. But how can this be implemented?

1. Understand capacity

Insight and data are key. Developing a clear understanding of the current workforce capacity within the various specialities and comparing this with service requirements will highlight pain points and quantify the shortage of resources. Many factors will influence this, such as:

  • National specialty guidelines
  • Volumes of patients
  • Local geography
  • Patient demographics

2. Modelling workforce options

Workforce modelling, as part of a job planning processes, involves assessing staffing requirements and testing various solution scenarios. It enables clinicians to articulate the requirement and helps to keep a clear focus on the needs of patients and workforce. Balancing benefits and costs are integral to this process.

Looking at the availability of consultants could help determine whether additional people are required or whether they are just needed at a weekend. This could help balance the costs of recruiting new staff and ensure the right mix of weekday and weekend doctors. Other important aspects to consider are the location of staff and how consultants’ caseloads vary depending on their specialty.

3. Avoid single points of failure

Preventing pinch points within the workplace is vital. By creating a process-orientated culture alongside a people-focused approach should reduce single points of failure.

For example, currently, common practice is for all staff calling in sick to phone a single ward manager. As a result the ward manager is then responsible for filling staffing gaps. An improvement to this process could be the creation of a central team for handling longer-term sickness absences. This would then free up the ward manager’s capacity for handling immediate patient issues.

4. Understand that change is personal

The relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions across the UK means that many areas of life are getting back to some kind of normality. However this is not the case for the NHS. Capacity issues mean that workers are constantly in firefighting mode, and the impact of this cannot be underestimated.

When driving forward transformation, it’s vital to recognise that change is extremely personal and can affect members of staff in different ways. Rather than simply presenting people with new processes and procedures, it’s important to engage workers to find out more about their personal challenges. Consequently these can inform a solution that suits them. This includes finding ways of working with people that are convenient and aren’t overly disruptive to their day-to-day, already pressurised work.

5. Collaborate with other teams

Collaboration with finance teams can help unlock additional capacity within NHS trusts. Working together closely enables staff delivering patient care to develop a deeper understanding of the complex financial structures of NHS trusts. This collaboration can also help to keep costs under control. By adopting a people-focused approach, NHS trusts can improve patient care while reducing costs and pressure on staff.

To learn more about how we are helping businesses with change challenges and how we can help you, get in touch.

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Published: Jun 15, 2022

By Sue Johnson Gregory

Consulting director

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