The Arctic weather has yet to arrive – but NHS winter crisis is underway

Despite the mild temperatures so far this winter, there are signs of a crisis within the NHS with a dramatic increase in the cancellation of operations and patients being left in ambulances on arrival at hospital because overstretched A&E departments were unable to admit them.

Within hospitals, further problems have arisen with those already treated and on wards – with over 3000 elderly people having to remain in hospital despite being well enough to be discharged as social services had not had time to put in place the support they needed once home. This is almost a 25% rise on the number of elderly patients finding themselves in this unfortunate situation the previous year.

These problems have come to light on the release of figures by the NHS as part of its seasonal statistics – figures which make alarming reading:-

• A 42% increase in the number of operations cancelled when data over a seven day time period is compared

• This increase means that over the last six month period, the number of surgical procedures to be cancelled within the NHS stood at over 32,000 – an all time high looking at figures for the last 11 years;

• In just a 10 day time frame, over 2,000 clinical procedures were cancelled at a very late stage – with fewer than 24 hours notice being given;

• Of these 2,000 operations, just over 6% were in relation to patients suffering from cancer and other serious conditions, where the operations were urgent – meaning the health of those patients was jeopardized.

• 4000 patients were forced to wait outside hospital in ambulances for over half an hour until A&E units were able to admit them – this is an actually an improvement on this figure for the same time last year, which stood at 6000, but still highlights the fact that A&E units are stretched and find it hard to cope on occasions.

The position is of even greater concern when a study of the figures reveals that these problems have arisen despite the demand on A&E departments being lower than during the corresponding period last year – 401,000 over a week as opposed to 410,800 during the same week in the previous year.

There is fear that some hospitals within the NHS have a strategy of cancelling operations in a bid to try to take pressure off pushed A&E units and cut the figures for those left outside in ambulances awaiting admission. Some doctors within the NHS have spoken of their concern that hospitals may find themselves unable to cope if the forecast arctic weather arrives in view of the fact that the figures show many are already struggling.

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