Broadstone: Labour has pledged to hit 18-week treatment target for patients, but there’s only so many hours NHS staff can work

“There’s a finite pool of trained staff. Labour’s plan for 40k extra appointments weekly relies on existing NHS staff working more, but there are only so many hours they can work safely,” warned Brett Hill, Head of Health & Protection at Broadstone.

Related topics:  Broadstone,  NHS
Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
30th May 2024
"Demand for private healthcare continues to grow among employees with more businesses looking to expand their coverage of these services to support the health of their workforce."
- Brett Hill, Head of Health & Protection at Broadstone

According to the latest data analysis from Broadstone, the volume and cost of corporate healthcare claims demonstrates how the surge in workplace ill-health and failing NHS is fueling demand for private healthcare. There’s been a significant increase in the cost of claims being paid by insurers as delayed or missed diagnoses prohibit necessary care.

Broadstone found mental health conditions are most common amongst those who’re economically inactive because of long-term sickness, with 53% of this demographic reporting it as a health condition. Yet, amongst corporate PMI plans, the volume of mental health-related claims rose by 33% between 2022-23. Likewise, the cost of mental health-related claims increased by 68%, suggesting that patients are presenting with more complex symptoms that require long-term treatment.

Meanwhile, the number of cancer-related claims has grown by 20%. The latest NHS data shows that only 64% of people in England received their diagnosis and started their first treatment within two months (or 62 days) of an urgent referral in February 2024.

In response to this healthcare crisis, Labour has pledged that under its leadership, NHS patients in England will receive treatment within 18 weeks – to be achieved in the next five years. This includes getting the NHS to do more out-of-hours and making greater use of the private sector.

“In the short-term, the dual challenges of rising demand and limited capacity suggest we’re unlikely to see drastic improvements in NHS performance, meaning the shift to private treatments funded through workplace healthcare benefits is only likely to accelerate,” said Brett Hill, Head of Health & Protection at Broadstone.  

Brett believes that boosting NHS performance faces two major ‘brakes’. “Firstly, poor productivity: despite increased spending on staff, treatment volumes aren’t rising. Much of this money is wasted on agency costs due to staff vacancies and sickness, compounded by past underinvestment in essential technology, creating inefficiencies and bottlenecks.

“Secondly, there’s a finite pool of trained staff. Labour’s plan for 40k extra appointments weekly relies on existing staff working more, but there are only so many hours they can work safely. Without more trained personnel, efforts to clear waiting lists will heavily strain an already overstretched workforce,” he explained.

Therefore, he suggests that instead of aiming for 18-week waits for all conditions, the Government should prioritise treatment for severe, life-impacting conditions as part of a more effective and sustainable public healthcare strategy.

For example, expediting the treatment of more debilitating conditions that may be having a significant impact on patients’ mental health and keeping them out of the workplace may be more efficacious than putting scarce resources towards treating every condition in an 18-week window.

“Additionally, the next government could reduce NHS strain by promoting employer-provided group protection products, especially for mental health and musculoskeletal conditions. This could improve workforce attendance and productivity, fueling economic growth necessary for public healthcare improvements,” he concluded.

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