LONDON – The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has apologised after hospitals in England were advised to cancel all non-urgent operations.
NHS bosses sanctioned a series of urgent measures to help the health service cope with unprecedented winter demand.
Implementation of the new NHS's Winter Pressures Protocol comes amid reports of hospitals filling up and insufficient numbers of doctors and nurses to treat patients.
Busiest Week of the Year
The measures will mean deferring many non-urgent operations and procedures in hospitals in England until 31st January. Managers will also be allowed to defer day-case procedures and routine outpatient appointments where this would release time for treating urgent cases.
However, NHS England is stressing that cancer operations and time-critical procedures should go ahead as planned.
Asked on Sky News about the move, Mr Hunt said: "It is absolutely not what I want." He said: "There are real pressures, no question about it.
"This is the busiest week of the year for the NHS."
'Sustained' Pressure on the NHS
The decision to take drastic action followed a second meeting of the National Emergency Pressures Panel.
The panel, chaired by NHS medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, noted that health services had been under "sustained pressure" over the Christmas period.
Extra demand had been intensified by high levels of respiratory illness, bed shortages, and seasonal flu.
Among other measures approved by the panel are:
· Staffing additional inpatient beds
· Placing consultants at accident and emergency department front doors to assess whether or not people require urgent care
· Sanctioning the use of mixed-sex wards
· Concerns over winter flu
In a statement, Sir Bruce says: "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."
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, which represents staff who care for emergency admitted patients not needing surgery, says: "The position at the moment is as bad as I've ever known."
'Third World Conditions'
Separately, a tweet by Dr Richard Fawcett, a consultant in emergency medicine at NHS University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, has been widely reported. On Tuesday, Dr Fawcett wrote: "I personally apologise to the people of Stoke for the 3rd world conditions of the dept due to overcrowding."
Between Christmas and New Year he had tweeted that 30 patients were being held in corridors at the Royal Stoke hospital and that patients were waiting up to 12 hours to be seen in A&E.
Appeal for the Public to Use the NHS 'Responsibly'
Elsewhere in the NHS, North East Ambulance Service reports being under "extreme pressure". Its chief operating officer said they had gone to level 4 – the highest level – under a national plan designed to maintain a safe and effective service. However, its response to emergency calls had inevitably deteriorated, it said.
The Scottish Ambulance Service reported a 38.4% increase in calls over Hogmanay compared to the same period in the previous year.
NHS England is urging people to use the NHS responsibly. It says calling 111 is often a quicker and more convenient way of obtaining clinical assessment and advice in non-emergencies and allows staff in A&E to focus on the sickest patients.
In his November budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced a £350 million cash injection to help the NHS cope with winter pressures. However, NHS service providers have since warned that the NHS will be "sorely tested", with the health service already at or close to full stretch.
Patients 'Losing Out'
Commenting on the latest situation by email, John Kell, head of policy at the Patients Association, says: "NHS England’s decision to defer elective surgery throughout January and authorise the use of mixed sex wards is a sign of how hard winter pressures are hitting the NHS this year.
"Combined with regular first-hand reports of worsening conditions in hospitals, including growing numbers of patients being treated on trolleys in corridors, it is clear how badly patients are losing out.
"Ministers must be accountable for this winter’s crisis. The policy decisions that have left the NHS in this position are taken by the Government, and it is ministers who are directly accountable to Parliament, and to patients when they vote at elections. It has long been obvious that all but the very mildest winter pressures would stretch the NHS mightily, and so it has proved."
The Society for Acute Medicine
North East Ambulance Service
Scottish Ambulance Service
WebMD Health News © 2018
Cite this: Peter Russell. UK Hospitals Defer Routine Surgeries Due to NHS Pressure - Medscape - Jan 04, 2018.