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Following the announcement that the NHS has struck a deal with the independent sector for surge capacity, Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, has responded.

The three-month agreement with multiple independent healthcare organisations will see their staff and facilities put on standby to support the NHS should the Omicron variant lead to unsustainable levels of hospitalisations or staff absences. It is intended to alleviate pressure on the NHS as part of the national COVID response.

The deal will allow NHS Trusts to send a wider range of patients to the independent sector for treatment, including those requiring some forms of cancer surgery and other care not normally delivered under existing arrangements.

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Matthew welcomes the extra support for the NHS, as it deals with Omicron wave, staff absences, and the major patient backlog. However, he suggests that a longer-term plan to address staff vacancies and lengthy waiting lists are critically important, and that the deal should not mask these issues.

Matthew said: “The coming weeks and months will be some of the most challenging in the NHS’s history as we seek to absorb the pressure of the Omicron wave amid huge demand and the challenge of significant staff absences, and then to get to grips with the backlog that has built up. The independent sector can have an important role in that.

“This deal – on top of the NHS building extra capacity and assistance we have seen from the military – means there is some further support if it is necessary over the coming months.

“These emergency measures will not be a silver bullet and they should not mask the longer term issues facing the NHS, such as huge staff vacancies. We know that the backlog will disproportionately impact people from poorer backgrounds and so a fair and equitable way of addressing this waiting list is critically important.”

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