The coronavirus crisis has resulted in backlogs across public services, including at record levels in the criminal courts. The government needs a plan to address these and should provide funding to make permanent the successful reforms introduced during the pandemic.
Performance Tracker 2020, published with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, analyses the disruptions in hospitals, general practice, adult social care, schools and criminal courts, and the changes made in response.
The government has approved £68.7bn of extra funding since March and suspended governance and regulatory requirements, while long-contemplated technologies, most notably delivering services remotely via video, telephone and text message, have been adopted. New ways of working, including greater collaboration and data sharing, have also helped save critical public services from collapse.
Nonetheless, huge backlogs have developed. Patients are waiting longer to start treatment in hospital and waiting lists are likely to increase for years to come as GPs refer patients who stayed away during the pandemic. The crown court case backlog is now equivalent to 56,000 cases, 42% higher than it was before coronavirus and the biggest in at least two decades.
The report says the government should use the spending review to set out a timetable to meet acceptable waiting list numbers, and to provide additional funding to make permanent successful reforms by:
- providing funding to continue faster discharges from hospital beyond the crisis, a longstanding problem that successive governments have failed to properly address
- investing in hardware and providing additional training to ensure remote medicine in hospitals and general practice, and remote hearings in criminal courts work more effectively, following years of underinvestment in public service IT
- providing additional funding for every child who needs a laptop, router or other technology to properly access remote learning, rather than trying to allocate an insufficient number of laptops to where they are needed most.
Where it is too early to judge the success of some reforms, the report recommends reviews of:
- the impact of remote hearings on the quality of justice
- the impact of free school meals in the holidays and ‘Catch Up’ funding to help tackle the attainment gap in schools
- the impact of remote general practice and hospital appointments.