The priority for the Cheshire and Merseyside Hospital system now is to tackle a significant backlog in waiting times for elective care. Although elective services were not completely stood down during wave 3 of the pandemic, the high numbers of Covid-19 patients inevitably led to elective cancellations and fewer patients being referred for treatment.
The initial priority is to treat the most urgent cases, including people waiting for cancer surgery. The recovery challenge is daunting, although the Cheshire and Merseyside position is better than other areas in the North West.
Trusts are currently developing individual recovery plans, with trajectories for urgent and cancer recovery and, alongside these immediate priorities, how they will tackle long waiting times for less urgent care. These plans will inform a Cheshire and Merseyside system plan, which will look at how to accelerate recovery through collaboration and mutual aid, ensuring equity of access for patients across the whole population.
Community diagnostic hubs or ‘one stop shops’ are to be established, away from hospitals, so that patients can receive life-saving checks closer to home. Cheshire and Merseyside will have 8 or 9 hubs across the footprint that will provide life-saving cancer and non-cancer diagnostics. These new services would be co-located on hospital ‘green sites’ that aren’t treating Covid-19 patients. This new capacity will protect the ability of the NHS to separate elective and urgent, thereby protecting elective capacity when these services come under pressure.
Equity of access will be key to decisions about where the hubs will be located across our footprint. An option appraisal process will inform these decisions.
The new hubs will make diagnostic services more accessible and convenient and they will help improve outcomes for patients with cancer and other serious conditions.
The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that the NHS needs to have more intensive care capacity, both beds and staff. Additional funding to increase critical care capacity is anticipated, with ICS footprints required to submit bids. The Hospital Cell will work with the Cheshire and Merseyside Critical Care Network to develop proposals that will be ambitious but also realistic, with workforce remaining a limiting factor in the short to medium term. The Hospital Cell will take a whole-system approach, reviewing the needs of our population and ensuring any new funding is allocated for maximum benefit.