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NHS unprepared for winter pressures

Doctors believe that the ability of the NHS to cope during the winter months has become worse over the last three years, new figures show.

A British Medical Association (BMA) survey of 457 doctors showed that:

  • Over three quarters (78 per cent) believe that the ability of the NHS to cope during this winter is worse compared with the last three years;
  • Doctors said that a lack of beds, delayed discharges and the general demand for primary care services were going to pose the greatest challenges over the winter period;
  • The majority of doctors surveyed said that during previous winters they have experienced an unmanageable workload which has hampered their ability to provide high quality patient care.

These figures follow a report released last month by the health select committee which said that the underfunding of adult social care and cuts to capital budgets are increasing the strain on accident and emergency departments particularly during the winter months.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Mark Porter, BMA chair of council, said:

“These figures are cause for serious concern as while there is an ever increasing demand for health services across the NHS, this is hugely exacerbated during the winter months.  Demand is now so great that hospitals are experiencing a year round crisis, with a lack of available beds preventing the system from coping with a seasonal spike in demand.

“Front-line staff are working flat-out but the system can’t cope with the number of patients needing to move through acute care, as the entire system is congested. It is vital that there is sufficient capacity across the entire health and social care system, including in accident and emergency departments, general practice and social and community care. Doctors are particularly concerned that a lack of investment and resource in social care is increasingly impacting on the provision of healthcare, especially in winter.

“Short-term fixes, however well meaning, will only get us so far. We have to look at the long-term funding, capacity and recruitment issues facing the system as a whole if we are to get to grips with the pressures hospitals face year in, year out, but which are compounded during the winter months.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

The British Medical Association (BMA) is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. It is an apolitical professional organisation and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of care.

  1. The survey findings results can be viewed online here.
  2. The BMA’s briefing paper on NHS winter pressures is available here.