Patients will not forgive a re-run of last winter’s horror showby Jon Ashworth / December 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
A poll by the Royal College of Physicians recently found that over half of doctors feel worried about the ability of their hospital to deliver safe patient care in the coming months. A mere 17 per cent of doctors were confident about preparations for the increased pressures that winter will place on the NHS.
If this all sounds troublingly familiar, it is. Last year saw the worst winter crisis ever recorded. It culminated in A&E consultants facing “disaster zones” with wards “bursting at the seams.” In total, 185,000 vulnerable and elderly patients were stuck in ambulances for over 30 minutes because of pressures on emergency departments. Average bed occupancy was 94 per cent, almost 10 percentage points higher than the rate deemed safe by clinicians.
A mother in Surrey told a newspaper that her 13-year-old daughter was turned away from a children’s unit, because the space was being used for adult inpatients. Photos from a hospital in Yorkshire showed patients sleeping on floors. And yet, throughout last year’s crisis, the prime minister kept her head buried in the sand. Denial became the order of the day.
This year, paralysed by Brexit infighting, the government has yet again failed to prepare for winter. Its proposals make fanciful promises about what the NHS will be able to deliver in five years’ time but lack a credible plan for five weeks’ time. In the autumn Labour called on the government to provide a £500m bailout fund to cope with winter pressures. Regrettably, our pleas went unheard.
October 2018 was the worst month since 2010 for emergency departments reaching their targets. A recent BBC investigation discovered one in five hospitals in England misses waiting time targets. Since last winter, the NHS waiting list has rocketed to 4.3m—a 10-year high.
A familiar pattern of senior A&E staff pleading for help is emerging once more. In November, Ben Teasdale, an A&E consultant in Leicester, tweeted that it was “the busiest day we’ve ever had.” His unit treated 766 patients in 24 hours.
Tajek Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and consultant in emergency medicine at Leeds General Infirmary, recently warned: “We are entering winter in a worse situation than we have for 20 years… We have still not even recovered from the last winter crisis.” Last month NHS Providers, the body that represents NHS Trusts, highlighted “clear warning signs” that this coming winter could be tougher. The staff vacancy rate is 107,000 including a shortage of 41,000 nurses with experts predicting it to rise due to Brexit.
Two winters ago, the Red Cross branded conditions in hospitals as akin to a “humanitarian crisis.” This year, NHS leaders and patients will be surveying the landscape ahead, and regrettably, bracing for crisis conditions. Patients will not forgive our new Health Secretary if we experience another re-run of last winter’s horror show.
Read more from Prospect’s health report