Concerns have been raised that the “tired” NHS workforce will immediately be forced to tackle the waiting list backlog after a year of battling coronavirus.
A leading medic said he fears that, as soon as the number of hospital patients with Covid-19 reduces, the “focus” will switch to keeping waiting lists down and restoring NHS services.
But Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said he is “most worried” about tired NHS staff, who have been “working above and beyond to fight the pandemic”.
It comes as record numbers of people are waiting for hospital treatment.
Data from the NHS in England show 4.52 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of December 2020, the highest number since records began in August 2007.
This includes 224,000 who have been waiting for longer than a year.
Asked about concerns that hospitals may have to cut services from April 1 if additional support is not provided, Prof Viner told Times Radio: “The thing that I’m most worried about with the health service is that we have a very tired workforce – that’s right across the whole workforce.
“And one of the concerns is that we will potentially switch from fighting the pandemic – everybody’s been absolutely geared up, working above and beyond to fight the pandemic – that once numbers are down that the focus of the media, Government and everyone will be on keeping the waiting lists down and on restoring services, and I’m really quite concerned about our workforce in that.
“The money… undoubtedly that’s a concern. But my concern is the workforce.
“And we really need to make sure we look after our workforce during this time.”
His comments came as the Government continued to defend its controversial recommendation of a 1% pay rise for NHS workers.
The move has sparked talk of industrial action, and unions have warned it could see nurses leave the profession in their droves after 12 months on the front line of the Covid pandemic following the wage review from ministers.