The role of booking schedulers in the NHS is often overlooked amid the focus on those performing front-line roles such as doctors and nurses. But it is vital to the efficient functioning of the service, which is why it can be a rewarding career.
It may never be truer than in the current situation where a large post-Covid backlog in waiting lists is one of the largest challenges faced by the service. Many have had to wait years for operations and part of the challenge is when to prioritise people who need the surgery sooner, such as those with life-threatening conditions like cancer.
Similarly, there are waiting lists for scans and consultations, which are needed to get people lined up for the treatment they need once it is established what the best course for them is.
The scale of the problem has been acknowledged by the government, with health secretary Steve Barclay recently announcing that the government will be using private sector-based diagnostic centres to speed the process up.
A total of thirteen new centres will be opened and while five will be entirely in the NHS, eight more will be private sector-led.
The use of private sector facilities to supplement those in the NHS can be controversial, amid claims that this could be a step on the road to ‘privatisation’, but such steps have been taken before under various governments.
Mr Barclay said: “We must use every available resource to deliver life-saving checks to ease pressure on the NHS.” He added that this would still be “free at the point of need” and will “offer patients a wider choice of venues to receive treatment and in doing so diagnose major illnesses quicker and start treatments sooner”.
As backlogs ease, booking schedulers will then have an important role in helping prioritise treatment bookings, ensuring patients then move on to get the treatment they need, shrinking the waiting lists in the process.
Patients in England seeking non-emergency treatment should not have longer than 18 weeks to wait to see a consultant under NHS rules, unless the best treatment options do not require this. For a cancer consultation, the patient should be seen within two weeks.