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Winter crisis hits, NHS hospitals cancel non-emergency operations

Published on 03/01/18 at 09:53am

There was ample warning that the NHS looked set to face another difficult winter season, the predictions now look to have become reality as non-emergency appointments across England will be delayed.

The “unprecedented step” has been confirmed by guidelines put in place by the NHS National Emergency Pressures Panel, which advised that non-essential day-case and outpatient procedures should be pushed back until the busy period for the NHS has been adequately managed.

This will see tens of thousands of appointments delayed until February, at the earliest. The reason for this step is due to the level of people entering hospitals already in the first week of January.

10 NHS trusts have announced that they are at the highest level of pressure on their trusts, known as a “black alert”. This step allows the trusts to take emergency measures to reduce risk to patients.

There have also been reports from numerous hospitals that ambulances have been forced to queue outside of A&E departments, due to not having sufficient beds for incoming patients.

Steps that have been taken in addition to the cancellation of appointments have also included the opening up of mixed sex wards. Previously, hospitals have attempted to maintain wards in only single sex designations for the dignity of patients, but this has now been temporarily scrapped.

Bruce Keogh, National Medical Director of NHS England, said in a statement: “I want to thank NHS staff who have worked incredibly hard under sustained pressure to take care of patients over the Christmas. We expect these pressures to continue and there are early signs of increased flu prevalence. The NHS needs to take further action to increase capacity and minimise disruptive last-minute cancellations.”

Many news sources have cited a number of doctors who have taken to Twitter to voice fears over the safety of patients, with one comparing the busy state of their hospital to “3rd world conditions”.

There are fears that the crisis could escalate with indications that a number of flu cases are now beginning to be reported across trusts. There have already been stark warnings that the winter season could be hit by a major flu crisis, after Australia and New Zealand were both struck particularly hard by influenza A outbreaks – usually looked upon as a harbinger for conditions to be faced in the UK.

Ben Hargreaves

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