As winter occupancy problems grow for the NHS, official statistics indicate that 12 hospitals in the health service face serious difficulties.
According to reports, these dozen institutions are so full that there was not a single bed available at any of the hospitals.
Commenting on the reports, the Labour Opposition has suggested that the figures are indicative of a health service under unprecedented and intolerable pressure.
Other hospitals have been badly hit by bouts of norovirus. The worst affected trust was the Royal United hospital Bath NHS foundation trust, which had 169 beds closed on Monday last week as a result.
Figures acquired by NHS in England indicate that hospitals in Cheshire, Norfolk, Essex, London, Devon and Wiltshire all completely ran out of beds last weekend.
In addition, there were less than 10 beds free in a further 27 NHS trusts over the same period.
Commenting on this is grave ituation, Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, was critical of government policy.
“These figures show an NHS under deep pressure with hospitals facing unprecedented levels of demand. Twelve hospital trusts in England did not have a single spare bed available last weekend, and many more were dangerously full.”
The statistics follow figures showing that levels of “bedblocking” in the NHS reached a record high long before winter was underway.
And the NHS is also facing problems related to meeting targets for seeing patients in a satisfactory timeframe.
Just 92.3 per cent of patients were seen within four hours in October – the lowest on record for this month, compared with 93.7 per cent this time last year.
All available evidence seems to point to the fact that the NHS is struggling logistically to deal with the demands of winter.
This meshed with the opinion of Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards, who predicted that this winter hospitals were going to find it “even more difficult to cope” unless the health service invested in intermediate care beds to get patients out of hospital.
There were 1,923,326 attendances at A&E in October – the highest number for the month since current records began in 2010.
This figure is 1.6 per cent more than October last year.
An NHS England spokesperson commented on the situation.
“Nobody could argue there isn’t ongoing pressure on the NHS. Despite this our staff continue to provide quality services in the face of increasingly high levels of demand throughout the healthcare system. Front line services are treating record numbers of patients. We continue to admit or treat and discharge more than nine out of ten patients within four hours – a higher standard than any major western nation.”
A new report comparing performance across high-income countries finds that the UK can and should do better in preventing unnecessary hospital admissions and improving survival from some of the biggest killer diseases – a conclusion endorsed by NHS Confederation chief executive, Rob Webster.
Published by the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, ‘Focus on: international comparisons of healthcare quality’ is a comprehensive study of the quality of care in the UK health system and how it compares with that of similar countries over time.
Although the report demonstrates that the UK’s performance has improved on almost every measure since the start of the millennium, it also finds that the UK lags behind most other countries in several areas of care, including higher rates of preventable hospital admissions, lower cancer survival and higher mortality rates from heart attacks and strokes.
“This useful piece of research highlights some of the real achievements made by the NHS in recent times, including on cancer screening, reducing heart attacks, flu vaccination and antibiotic prescribing rates”, said Mr Webster. “The report shows the UK has improved on almost every measure and is testament to the hard work being done by health and care staff across the NHS.
“The report also highlights areas where we can and must do better – not least around survival rates for common cancers. This may be a problem with late presentation and lifestyle factors – as shown in many director of public health reports across the UK.
“To address these big challenges our members will need to work closely with partners in local government and the voluntary sector to develop a new relationship with the public. At the same time we will need to transform how we provide care so that the modern health service meets 21st Century health needs. We can climb the mountain Nigel Edwards describes but only if we do it together and if local government has the resources to support the public’s health.”
The report can be accessed via the Health Foundation website.
The scandal of rapidly increasing agency costs in the NHS needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Tuesday 2 June).
Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, was commenting as the think tank, the Nuffield Trust warned today that staff burn-out could derail the NHS ‘efficiency’ drive and the move to a seven-day service.
“It is quite right that the Nuffield Trust has highlighted the scandal of accelerating expenditure on agency staff which has jumped by 31 percent in just one year”, said Barrie Brown, head of health at Unite.
“Unite and the other health unions raised this very issue with Jeremy Hunt on 20 January this year during the pay negotiations. The health secretary has been slow to get to grips with the spiralling out of control agency budget.
“Unite wants the agency bill slashed and permanent nursing staff and other health professionals employed with proper training and development in place, coupled with robust recruitment and retention policies.
“We welcome the pledge at the weekend by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens that he will clamp down on the staffing agencies that he said were ripping off the NHS – this promise is not before time.
“Media reports that some of the bosses of these staffing agencies are living a five-star high life on the profits levered out of the financially challenged NHS will sicken those on waiting lists for hospital treatment.
“The money going to these agencies could be quickly redirected towards helping patients get the care they deserve and that permanent staff are fairly rewarded for their work for all their patients.”