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09th January 2015

Winter Pressures

woman in winterNo spare capacity to deal with spike in demand

Each year it is a growing concern that more pressure is put on NHS services in the winter months. GP Practices are trying to deal with the unending queue of patients wanting to be seen and hospitals in particular are facing unprecedented levels of demand, yet patient expectations continue to rise. Dr Mark Porter, of the British Medical Association, said "Staff are working flat out but the system is struggling to cope with the sheer number of patients coming through the door. Growing pressure on services throughout the year means hospitals have no spare capacity to deal with the winter spike in demand."

Missing the target

The news that the NHS in England has missed its waiting time target with performance dropping to its worst level for a decade is dominating the headlines. But does it really matter? After all, it was just 2.4 per cent short of the 95 per cent threshold during the last three months of 2014. That means over nine in ten patients were seen in four hours. The first working day of the New Year is always a difficult day for any NHS healthcare provider, it's one of the busiest days for hospital emergency admissions. However, it is a real problem when hospitals are declaring major incidents, calling in extra staff (I have no idea where from though) and cancelling routine operations. In some cases hospitals were actually ready to take the ultimate step and close their doors by stopping ambulances from arriving.

Hospitals on black alert

One A&E nurse contacted the BBC recently to say the hospital in which he works had been regularly exceeding safe levels and continually on black alert since September as patients queued in corridors. "Patients are suffering as a result and it makes my heart bleed that I have delayed assessing someone for hours, have denied them prompt pain relief and they are left in the corridor." This is the sad truth from just one of our many fantastic NHS workers in the acute sector that is there to look after us on a daily basis. What will happen if there are further cuts or lack of recruitment this year? I dread to think.

Just the way it is

This huge pressure on hospitals also results in increased pressure in primary care, with patients still unsure where to go with their ailments and using the same old phrase “I want to see a doctor”. With CQC asking us to evidence whether or not we meet staffing levels ‘How do actual staffing levels and skill mix compare to planned levels? Is cover provided for staff on annual leave?’ and ‘How are potential risks taken into account when planning services, for example, seasonal fluctuations in demand, the impact of adverse weather, or disruption to staffing?’ – Safe key line of enquiry, it is difficult to know how long they will accept this is just the way it has to be sometimes.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Alison Lowerson

GP Specialist

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