Analysis of hospital data provided by NHS England indicates that 25% of hospital trusts declared a level three or four alert for the first half of the month of January.
The number of high-level warnings signifies extreme pressure that must be considered a cause of concern for healthcare bosses.
A level three alert effectively means that patient flow was compromised, with a level four alert indicating that a hospital has been unable to deliver comprehensive care.
Official data demonstrates that hundreds of operations were cancelled in December, with pressure continuing throughout the early weeks of 2017.
Numerous authoritative organisations have spoken out on the problems within the NHS system, but the British Red Cross was particularly strong in its verdict, describing the situation as a “humanitarian crisis”.
The scale of this issue is underlined by the fact that over half of the hospital trusts in England declared a level three alert or worse during at least one day in January.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey indicated his belief that the problems within hospitals have a significant knock-on impact on general practice.
“Many patients who would otherwise be expecting to have surgery done or an outpatient appointment get cancelled, and they come back to the GP and ask why. This adds bureaucracy and extra appointments onto already overstretched GP services. The impact goes on much longer, especially on waiting times, especially for follow-up appointments with hospitals.”
Although Vautrey acknowledged that operations are cancelled less frequently than other forms of care, those requiring regular follow-up appointments with specialists are particularly disadvantaged within the current climate.
“Many [such patients] return to their GP wondering what has happened and thinking they have been forgotten. It tends to be people for regular follow up – at the eye clinic, going to see a rheumatologist or cardiologist – the patient expects to be seen again in three or four months and often finds that the actual follwo up is in six or nine months,” Vautrey asserted.
Pressure on beds within both primary and social care is also a major issue according to Vautrey, with bed-blocking becoming increasingly prominent within the NHS system.
He urged hospitals to provide patients with realistic timetables, in oder to avoid repeat visits to GPs with the intention of chasing hospital appointments.
It has become common for GPs to see patients on several occasions while they await hospital appointments.
“This will carry on for weeks and months to be resolved,” Vautrey predicted.