The vaccine rollout for the COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be very expensive for the UK government. Over 370 billion pounds was spent on effectively distributing the vaccine to as many UK residents as possible. This has also led to a massive increase in the number of people waiting (over 4 months) to receive any sort of medical treatment.
You may have heard the common phrase “Health is Wealth” but it seems that the UK government may not fully agree with this statement. In an ideal situation, the funding should increase every year due to the increase in population. Unfortunately, since 2010 the NHS has been consistently underfunded which made them extremely under-prepared for the pandemic.
The government had no option but to provide additional funding in 2020, which led to a 2.1% increase in healthcare expenditure, a higher value compared to the previous decades. This is mainly due to a boost in government-financed expenditure with minimal changes in the other sources of funding.
The unexpected increase in funding also comes at a cost, funding for additional improvements will be severely affected hindering many of the long-term plans that the NHS had prepared. Demands in sectors such as mental health have also increased due to the pandemic with approximately £1.1bn in investments needed.
Achieving such long-term goals also requires funding to provide training to healthcare workers, ranging from nurses to doctors. Around £900m will be required to achieve all of this by 2024. Essentially all long-term goals have had their deadlines pushed back by a few years. The deadlines will be further pushed back if the government goes back to its normal approach of funding the NHS.
One of the most significant changes that’s been noticed is the increased backlog of patients (about 6.8 million) waiting for appointments. This turns into a serious problem when patients with life-threatening diseases (such as cancer) have to wait around 2 weeks to receive a specialist appointment and well over two months to receive a confirmation to start any treatment. The longer it takes to start treatment the more complex the tumour’s biology becomes, making it harder to treat. An estimated £17bn is necessary to eliminate the backlog created.
Only a well-planned and strategic approach could help improve the numerous problems that the NHS is facing. One way would be to raise taxes once the economy has recovered from the pandemic as it could act as the additional funding the NHS desperately needs. The government is also planning an “elective recovery plan” which plans to change the distribution of healthcare services in order to use them more efficiently. A “Patient Initiated Follow Up” method will be used to provide basic health check-ups and treatment for mild symptoms and diseases. This will help reduce the workloads on hospitals which can then focus their attention on providing treatment for serious cases.
An increase in the workforce is essential in reducing the backlog. A record-breaking number of nurses are leaving their jobs. A proper work/life balance along with increased funding could be useful. Efforts must be made to mitigate a demotivating working environment in hospitals.
The NHS has a long road towards recovery, with the sudden demand for emergency funding due to the pandemic and the increased patient backlog. Despite this, all hope is not lost as long as additional funding and careful distribution of resources are conducted.
Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.
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