NHS Waiting Lists – are they such a new challenge?


An article by Lucy Morrisey, Director in the Johnson & Johnson MedTech UK & Ireland Strategic Capabilities Team

One of the many significant aftermaths of Covid that we hear a lot about is that the NHS waiting list is bigger than ever, but is it really a new challenge? In my mind, the people and process management issues that give rise to a long waiting list are the same as before Covid, albeit at a scale not previously known. However, the need for collaboration and change remains constant.

Long before Covid, the crux of dealing with a surgical waiting list was one of getting the right resources (people, infrastructure, kit) in the right place at the right time, with the right processes in place to allow the system to work efficiently. My time in the NHS was spent tackling some of the longest 52 week waiting lists that existed in the country, at a time when that was the preserve of only a few of the largest providers. I have great compassion for the many colleagues in the system who now find working on this challenge to be a routine part of their day to day. It is not to be underestimated the stress that will be causing to those responsible around the country, as they battle on a daily basis to improve the delivery of care for their patients.

So, what can be done? Taken in turn the challenge of resources is ever present, a workforce that have borne such a large challenge over the last few years, only now to have to step back up to tackle the aftereffects, perhaps a focus on their health and wellbeing is to be at the forefront of minds.

Overburdened infrastructure, often in the wrong place! – giving rise to a need to ensure consolidation in hub models. Complex logistics of getting all the right ‘stuff’ in the right place – surely a task for those experts in supply chain and logistics. Then to process management, its not a secret that processes are not always optimal, that the logical flow between steps along a pathway aren’t always followed, that variation in practice leads to the challenge of maintaining high standards. This is a daily challenge for every NHS leader and yet their time pressured environment means often there’s little time for focused improvement work even when they know many of the right answers!

It seems crude perhaps to provide the perceived luxurious industry perspective against a backdrop of this public sector challenge, but in all honesty the intention is good. The NHS, or any healthcare system for that matter, will always look to companies like my own to buy products and services, I am minded that it gets the best deal from them in the widest possible sense. My view of this wide sense is to take advantage of the value added offers that companies across the MedTech industry now offer to help tackle the challenges their customers face on a day-to-day basis. These offers are now judged on their own merit in a right and proper process set out by the NHS procurement infrastructure.

My bias is obvious, but I do believe that the capability that J&J MedTech Strategic Capabilities team has built in collaboration with our businesses DePuy Synthes, Ethicon and CSS can help.

A key aim of our programmes is to improve care to patients through supporting hospitals reduce their length of stay and therefore the waiting list. By embedding enhanced recovery protocols, reducing length of stay, in eligible patients, could contribute towards:

  • Releasing bed capacity
  • Freeing up clinical time for clinical staff
  • Helping to predict future bed availability
  • Reduce/avoiding additional costs
  • Improving patient satisfaction
  • Improving staff morale

Whilst waiting lists are definitely not a new challenge, the role industry can play in partnering with the NHS to tackle them is a relatively new phenomenon and one that I’m passionate about delivering as we navigate the Covid aftermath. To be amongst the first to receive the latest news articles and further information on our programmes, subscribe to our Strategic Capabilities mailing list by filling in this form here.