The Priorities and Operational Planning Guidance document for the NHS across England in 2022/23 lists ten core targets. NHS Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard stresses that the objectives set out in the document are based on a scenario whereby COVID-19 infections return to a low level, and the NHS is able to make significant progress in the first part of 2022. However, as the new year gets underway, the NHS is under greater pressure than at almost any point in the pandemic so far, with multiple Trusts declaring critical incidents due to high bed occupancy, a steady increase in Covid patients and rapidly rising levels of staff absences due to illness or having to isolate. Indeed, it is the high numbers of staff away from work that is causing the most significant problems across the NHS and other public services at the moment.
Amanda Pritchard also notes that Trusts are not expected to embark on specific planning now - the planning timetable will be extended to the end of April 2022 - and this date will be kept under review - with draft plans due in mid-March.
In addition to the core targets, the Priorities and Operational Planning Guidance also confirms that the deadline for Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) to be legally and operationally established has been extended from April 1, 2022 to July 1, 2022. This new date aligns with the passage of the Health and Care Bill through Parliament and will also provide some extra flexibility for systems preparing for the new statutory arrangements whilst also continuing to manage the pandemic response. The first quarter of 2022 will therefore continue as a preparatory period, with all current statutory arrangements remaining in place.
• Invest in the workforce - systems are being asked to accelerate work to transform and grow the substantive workforce, with a focus on looking after people, improving belonging, working differently and growing for the future
• Ever-more effective response to COVID-19 - this includes continuing to prioritise the delivery of the vaccination programme, as well as increasing patient referrals to post-Covid services and decreasing the numbers of patients waiting longer than 15 weeks for placement on the appropriate pathways
• Deliver significantly more elective care to tackle backlogs - with a stated target of delivering over 10% more elective activity than pre-pandemic and reducing long waits, as well as an ambitious goal to deliver around 30% more elective activity by 2024/25
• Improve the responsiveness of urgent and emergency care - providing care in the most appropriate setting, including maximising the potential of virtual wards as well as increasing physical bed capacity
• Improve timely access to primary care - expanding capacity and the number of appointments, with increasing the workforce a top priority
• Improve mental health services and services for those with a learning difficulty and/or those with autism
• Continue to develop the NHS approach to population health management, preventing ill health and addressing health inequalities - the safe and effective use of patient data is key to this and Trusts are being given a target of June 2022 to develop plans to put in place the systems, skills and data safeguards to act as a foundation
• Using digital technologies to transform the delivery of care and patient outcomes - NHS England is promising to support health and care systems to ensure they have a core level of infrastructure, digitisation and skills, and costed, three-year digital investment plans should be finalised by June 2022, which should include ambitions to support the delivery of net zero targets
• Make the most effective use of resources - within the funding announced, which includes the 2021 Spending Review revenue and capital settlement and additional allocations made to support tackling the elective backlog, the new hospital building programme as well as the one-year revenue allocation to 2022/23 and the three-year capital allocations to 2024/25, the NHS is expected to fully restore core services and make significant inroads into the elective backlog as well as Long Term Plan commitments
• Establish ICBs and collaborative system working.