Responding to the Public Accounts Committee inquiry on ‘Managing NHS backlogs & waiting times’, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists has stressed the need for consistent national coordination and resourcing of proven eye care innovations alongside an upskilling of the workforce and implementation of integrated pathways, if long backlogs and waiting times for both diagnostic and surgical appointments are to be reduced.
Scope of the inquiry
The Public Accounts Committee launched this inquiry as a follow-up to its report from March 2022 in which it stated that the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) had overseen “years of decline” in NHS elective care waiting time performance. This follow-up inquiry will see the committee question senior officials at DHSC and NHS England on the start they have made on tackling elective care backlogs, with a particular focus on the design and implementation of national recovery plans, and the use of independent sector providers.
In its response to this inquiry, the College outlined the range of innovative measures currently being taken to tackle challenging backlogs and waiting times, supported by the National Eye Care Recovery and Transformation Programme, RCOphth and wider eye care organisations. Such measures include surgical hubs, virtual and digital clinics, community diagnostic centres and increased integration of primary care optometrists.
The rapid increase in the use of independent sector providers (ISPs) is also noted, with the College calling for additional capacity offered by ISPs to be effectively utilised while pressures on the sustainability of NHS eye units associated with increased use of ISPs are addressed.
The College’s response also stresses the need to see innovations more consistently resourced and supported by a range of additional measures if long NHS backlogs and waiting times are to be reduced. Our response highlights the need to:
- Ensure that NHS England’s National Eye Care Recovery and Transformation Programme (NECRTP) is supported to bring down the long ophthalmology backlogs through national coordination and consistent implementation of services, appropriate direction of transformation funding locally for proven innovations, upskilling of the existing workforce to meet current and future patient need, and support for the implementation of integrated pathways across primary and secondary care.
- Effectively use the additional capacity offered by independent sector providers, while addressing the risks its widespread use in ophthalmology is already posing for training the next generation of ophthalmologists and the sustainability of NHS eye units delivering comprehensive care.
- Focus recovery efforts on the diagnostic and follow-up delays, not just surgical backlogs. Publishing more granular data on outpatient waiting lists including risk stratification and follow-up delays – as Wales does – would help eye services plan better and prevent more avoidable blindness. As an image and data-reliant speciality, relatively modest investments from NHS England and DHSC in roles such as ophthalmic image graders and technicians would also help to rapidly expand diagnostic capacity in ophthalmology.
The College welcomes the Public Accounts Committee follow-up inquiry into the management of NHS backlogs and waiting times, with its particular focus on the use of the independent sector. RCOphth continues to work with DHSC, NHS England and our eye care partners to ensure effective measures are taken to reduce ophthalmology backlogs.
The full inquiry response has been made available on the RCOphth website. To view the inquiry response in full, please follow this link.
We will keep you updated on outcomes from this parliamentary inquiry. Please contact us on [email protected] if you have any comments or questions.