Health services will take over a year to return to full capacity

ALMOST half of UK physician specialties expect to be working at less than previous pre-COVID activity levels for at least 12 months or more, according to the The Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The RCP asked nineteen medical specialties in England to estimate what capacity they expect to be working at over the next 12 months compared with pre-COVID-19 activity levels. Eight expect to be working under capacity for the foreseeable future.

Specialty leaders in respiratory medicine and gastroenterology expect it to take two years to recover from the backlog created by COVID-19, while those in cardiology are expecting it to take 18–21 months.

The RCP said that this is in part due to the time it takes for the extra infection prevention and control measures to be carried out, including time taken to put on and remove PPE between procedures, the need to implement social distancing to protect patients and staff, and the need for more regular cleaning of spaces between patient visits. Recovering patients will also need on-going support of NHS services, especially in respiratory medicine, rehabilitation medicine, renal medicine and clinical psychology.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians said: "We cannot underestimate the extent of the work that still lies ahead for the NHS workforce, and the very real possibility of further COVID-19 outbreaks and additional waves, which would of course increase the challenge ahead.

"In the short to medium term it is likely that doctors will need to further prioritise care, as they have always done, to respond to the reduced capacity levels across the NHS.

"We also need to be honest with patients that things will take longer and that we are working as hard as possible to restore services to pre-pandemic levels."

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