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NHS buckling under winter pressures

The NHS is cracking under extreme pressure, the BMA warned in response to the latest winter figures released last week.

Winter pressureNHS England’s snapshot of how winter pressures are affecting the health service revealed there were more than 110,000 emergency hospital admissions in one week this season. 

This is one of the highest figures since records began more than a decade ago.

More than 436,000 patients attended emergency medicine departments in the week ending 7 December — almost 30,000 more visits than the quarterly average during the past four years.

And the data showed that the number of patients treated in emergency medicine departments within the four-hour standard fell by 3 per cent compared with the same week last year — from 94.8 per cent to 91.8 per cent.

Unacceptable delays

BMA council chair Mark Porter said that, while patients should be treated on the basis of clinical need rather than targets, the NHS figures showed that the pressure on the health service was leading to unacceptable delays in care.

‘This is not just a crisis in emergency care — bed shortages, and high numbers of patients inappropriately in hospital beds are now major stress factors on the system, leading to unacceptable delays in treating and discharging patients,’ he said.

‘Outside of hospitals, GP surgeries are struggling to cope with unprecedented levels of demand.'

Dr Porter said frontline staff were working flat out but the system could not cope with the sheer number of patients coming through the door. 

‘So far there has been a total failure by government to come up with a meaningful plan to deal with this — funding announced recently to tackle winter pressures is simply recycled money, taken from other overstretched services,’ he said.

‘There is no getting away from the fact that the NHS needs more investment to ensure there are enough staff and resources to meet rising demand, and part of this means taking urgent action to address the high number of staff vacancies in emergency medicine as well as general practice.’

In publishing the figures, NHS England national director of commissioning operations Dame Barbara Hakin said: ‘Unsurprisingly, this level of demand continues to put extra pressure on our hospitals but the NHS remains resilient and is pulling out all the stops, with local hospitals, ambulances, GPs, home health services and local councils all working hard to open extra beds and seven-day services using the extra winter funding that has been made available.’

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