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Another waiting list initiative?

25/03/2013
by Rob Findlay

The genuine, externally-driven demand for healthcare is remarkably stable. But inside the NHS it doesn’t feel like that; managers are constantly responding to new pressures.

Sometimes it is a genuine and sudden spike in demand: an outbreak of flu for instance. Sometimes demand steps-up because of something the NHS has done (like start a new screening programme), which should be predictable.

But most of the time, in most services, nothing really changes very much. And yet the fire-fighting continues.

Why?

Let’s try a few scenarios and see if any of them sound familiar:

Scenario 1: The responsive clinic

The consultants’ clinic sessions haven’t changed in years. Nor have the clinic templates. The Choose & Book ‘polling ranges’ were set years ago to meet 18 weeks, and haven’t changed since.

Every now and again, staff notice that all the clinic slots have filled up so there’s nothing available on Choose & Book. They beg a willing consultant to run an extra clinic in 2-3 weeks time, and it fills up quickly with new Choose & Book patients. That takes the immediate pressure off, but patients are still booking right up to the end of the polling range.

Scenario 2: The helpful orthopods

Waiting times are a long-standing problem for orthopaedic inpatients, but the orthopods are usually quite flexible and manage to keep on top of it. Whenever the TCIs for the coming month are looking set to breach, the consultants manage to run some Saturday morning lists and avoid the crisis.

It costs an arm and a leg in overtime and bank staff, and the consultants are paid handsomely for the extra sessions, but it keeps a lid on it.

Scenario 3: The pragmatic plan

The operational managers know how many consultants they’ve got, how many sessions they’ve got, and how many cases they do in a session. So they multiply all that up, then that’s their plan for next year. Yes, some services are struggling with 18 weeks, but there’s no point in promising the commissioners extra activity when you don’t have the resources.

The solution

All those scenarios have one thing in common: baseline capacity is not based on demand.

There will always be some form of mismatch between capacity and demand, because capacity comes in chunks (consultants, sessions, beds) and demand is more continuous. Over time, the gap between capacity and demand will drift, until after a few years it becomes quite pronounced.

The result is that some elective services have a steadily growing waiting list (and periodic waiting times crises, tackled with expensive ‘extra’ sessions, as they bump along under the target). Meanwhile, other elective services have a steadily shrinking waiting list and either run out of patients or (more likely) slacken off their activity by running short sessions.

The solution, obvious as it may sound, is to align baseline capacity with recurring demand. Then those expensive ‘extra’ sessions are only needed for genuine non-recurring work, and you can pull resources out of any areas that are quietly enjoying a bit of slack.

It isn’t rocket science, but it is fiddly because you have to take a lot of things into account. It’s best to let a professional model like Gooroo Planner take care of it all for you.

You’re going to need an internal plan you can believe in, based on what you really think is going to happen to demand, taking account of the knock-ons from outpatients to electives, and broken down week by week so you can meet your objectives all the time and not just at year-end.

Get in touch on info@gooroo.co.uk and we’ll be happy to drop in and show you more. If you decide to go ahead, we can cross-check your plans as part of the initial induction programme.

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