Hospital Dr News

‘Winter pressures’ affect NHS all-year-round and next government must act

NHS patients endured one of the worst winters on record, with year-round crisis set to become the norm.

A BMA analysis suggests that last winter was one the worst winters on record, with all key performance markers revealing a struggling health system.

Bed occupancy, delayed transfers of care and waits at A&E are all increasing, with patients waiting longer for ambulances, treatment and admission.

Targets are consistently not being met across the health system, and these trends are going to worsen.

The analysis shows:

  • Over the first three months of 2017, bed occupancy on general and acute wards was 91.4% – the highest figure recorded;
  • Mental health bed occupancy at the end of the year was 89.7% – also the highest figure recorded;
  • There were 328 fewer available mental health beds between January and March than between October and December;
  • Between November 2016 and March 2017, almost a fifth of patients waited over four hours to be seen at major A&Es;
  • The number of trolley waits in that period also dramatically increased – in 2016/17, over 290,000 patients waited at least four hours to be admitted, an increase of almost 70,000 on the previous year;
  • Despite the NHS England target that no patient will wait more than 12 hours on a trolley, the number of such incidents has dramatically increased over the past seven years, from 37 in the winter of 2010/11 to 2337 last winter – an increase of 6831%.
  • Between the start of December 2016 and the middle of March 2017, 94 of 152 trusts issued major alerts on at least one day to say they couldn’t cope. Two-thirds of the most serious alerts were issued by just 10 trusts;
  • From November 2016 to March 2017 there were, on average, 6708 patients experiencing a delayed transfer of care on any one day.

And these figures have been recorded during a relatively mild winter, where there were not widespread outbreaks of influenza or norovirus.

The BMA is calling on the next government to invest in the medical workforce to attract the doctors the NHS needs, and promote high-quality training.

It will require a long-term solution to the funding, capacity and staffing challenges facing the health and social care systems, it says.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: “Politicians are consistently missing their own targets across the health system and the NHS is clearly at breaking point. Pressures previously only seen during the winter months are now becoming the norm year-round, as current trends suggest that performance will continue to deteriorate rather than improve. This is compounded by staff and bed shortages and the threat of further cuts to services under so-called ‘transformation plans’.

“Our health and social care systems can no longer cope without urgent action. In the run-up to the general election, we call on politicians of all parties not to duck this crisis any longer. This means, as a minimum, immediately bringing investment in line with other leading European countries and outlining credible, long-term plans that will safeguard the future of the fully funded and supported NHS that staff want and patients deserve.”

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