NHS Winter Shortage Looming

Accident & Emergency departments need almost 3,000 more doctors to cope with unprecedented pressures which could trigger a major crisis this winter, MPs have warned.

A report by the Commons health committee says hospitals are “running too hot” with record occupancy levels leaving too few empty beds to cope with surges in demand.

Experts said the NHS was “going in to its toughest winter yet, with the odds stacked against it.”

MPs said hospitals had too few staff to respond to pressures which are being fuelled by cuts in social care services.

A&E departments need at least 8,000 doctors – 50 per cent more than the 5,300 currently employed – to keep pace with the rise in emergency admissions in the last five years, the report says.

More than 1,000 more consultants would be needed to match demand, the report says, citing evidence from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM).

The head of the health committee last night raised fears that a “cold snap” could be enough to push services into chaos.

Dr Sarah Wollaston said “unprecedented levels of demand” for services had left overcrowded hospitals routinely compromising safety.

The report says health services coped last year because the weather was mild and the flu vaccine worked.

But it suggests this winter could be “substantially more difficult,” because recent performance is far worse than normal for the time of year.

“If you have too little capacity you get sick people backing up in A&E departments and the system begins to unravel. If we have a cold snap or the flu vaccine doesn’t work we will have serious problems in the system,” Dr Wollaston said.

MPs said NHS trusts were resorting to desperate measures to try to reduce levels of bed-blocking, with too many pensioners trapped in hospital for want of care at home.

A number of hospitals have begun hiring carers to look after pensioners in their own homes, so they can empty beds for those in medical need , the report says.


One trust has recruited 60 care support workers to provide care in people’s homes, freeing up 75 beds, the report says.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of health think tank, the Nuffield Trust said: “The NHS is going into its toughest winter yet with the odds stacked against it. Demand for healthcare is on the rise, funding for both health and social care is being squeezed and A&E departments are missing their targets.”

He said social care services needed at least £2.8 billion more by 2019-20 to fill a growing funding gap.

MPs accused hospitals of failing to take responsibility for patients arriving at A&E departments by ambulance, with some ignoring patients stuck waiting in car parks.

Earlier this month an investigation revealed a 60 per cent rise in delays in two years, with delays of up to nine hours amid warnings from health officials of a deadly “epidemic” of delays

Dr Tajek Hassan, RCEM president said hospital overcrowding was putting lives at risk.

“We have warned about the effect that cuts to social care is having on emergency department performance and we have seen the situation worsen each year. Whereas traditionally winter would be a busy period, the system would always, to an extent, recover. We are now failing to see recovery with almost year round pressure resulting in delays and overcrowding.”


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