Crisis Incidents in English NHS Hospitals Double in a Year

New figures designed to indicate the true size of the crisis in the NHS show that hospitals in England have experienced double the number of economic difficulties this winter as compared to last.

Severe pressure on A&E departments has meant that hospitals have had to take drastic measures, including turning ambulances away, treating patients in corridors or waiting rooms, and cancelling operations.

The figures, which cover the period from November 2013 to January 2014 show that over the period managers declared 330 “operational problems” and escalated the issue to NHS senior management in London.

In the period from November 2014 to January 2015, the number of incidents had rocketed to 734. Hospital managers have to record and report “operational problems” on a weekly basis, but there is no set definition of what constitutes an operational problem, and information about specific cases is rarely available.

Last winter, some of the situations which resulted in “operational problems” included extreme overcapacity, which forced some hospital managers to purchase extra beds, relocate a minor injury unit to a Hereford supermarket and the cancellation of operations repeatedly at several hospitals.

This winter, some hospitals have been forced to take equally drastic steps such as closing the doors to ambulances. Some of the hospitals which have struggled most this winter are the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust which has reported operational problems 51 times. Both Lancashire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust have reported operational problems 36 times since November.

The NHS is currently operating at its limits, and if this continues, it seems likely these “operational problems” will become more and more common.

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