Health service pushed ‘to breaking point’

Written By: Ian Hernon
Published: January 17, 2017 Last modified: January 17, 2017

The scale of the NHS crisis became clear after hospitals were plunged into tur­moil over the Christmas and New Year.

The Red Cross were called in as A&E departments were forced to turn away the elderly and injured, sparking a “humanitarian crisis”.

“This is just the latest staggering example of how the NHS is now being pushed to breaking point,” said Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth.

Over the seasonal period, a third of hospitals reported they need urgent help to cope with the numbers of patients coming through the doors, A&Es had to turn patients away more than 140 times in December because they couldn’t cope and several hospitals admitted they couldn’t offer patients comprehensive care. More patients were languishing on trolleys and in ambulance queues. And hospitals pleaded on Twitter for patients to stay away from A&E.

But a raft of reports and new statistics showed it was a crisis waiting to happen because of government under-funding on both health and social care.

Bed-blocking figures revealed that delayed discharges have cost the NHS £455,809,950 in the twelve months to October 2016.

In total, 134,221 days were lost in October alone, and 1,489,575 days were lost over the year to then. Since 2010, days lost to delayed discharge has soared by 130 per cent, while on the last Thursday in October, 4,568 people were trapped on hospital wards, despite being well enough to leave.

According to official NHS England figures, an excess bed day costs £306 per day. The cost of an employing a nurse is £42,300 per year, so the bill for delayed discharges could have paid for 10,775 nurses.

Since August 2010, when the data was first collected over six million days have been lost to delayed discharges from hospitals.

Ashworth said: “The Government is letting older people down by failing to provide much needed investment for social care. The crisis in our social care system is having a knock-on effect on overstretched hospitals and GP surgeries, and patients deserve better than this Tory failure”.

And, in a further development, new figures showed that hospitals in England are facing a chronic shortage of beds this winter, with four in five NHS trusts recording bed occupancy rates above safe levels throughout December.

Analysis of NHS figures  showed that 124 out of 152 NHS trusts, or four in five, failed to meet the 85% target – the maximum occupancy rate recommended to give staff time to clean beds, keep infections low and ensure patients aren’t exposed to health risks – on each day from the 1st to 18th December.

Thirty-four NHS trusts were so full they did not have a single bed to spare on at least one day in the same period. Forty trusts had occupancy rates above 95% on each day in the same period, way above the recommended safety level.

Meanwhile, NHS England’s chief nursing officer claimed that cutting hospital beds and using the money for care at home could mean better treatment for patients.

Prof Jane Cummings said that freeing up the money put into “old and expensive buildings” is one way the health service can improve. Staying in hospital too long can often make patients more ill, and “outdated models of care” needed to change.

She was responding to a review set up by the NHS which split England into 44 areas, ordering local managers and councils to come up with sustainability and transformation plans to improve efficiency.

Describing an NHS organisation in Devon, Prof Cummings said: “[It] wants to invest in home-based care, but it struggles because resources are currently tied up in hospital beds.”
Shadow health minister Julie Cooper said: “The Government needs to wake up to the fact that there is a full scale crisis in the NHS at every level.

“We have heard a lot about the shortage of beds and waiting times in Accident and Emergency Departments but there has been little acknowledgement of the pressures facing GP surgeries. The truth is that they are overwhelmed by ever increasing demand. Add to this a chronic shortage of GPs and a crisis in recruitment and the result is a service that is at breaking point.

“If the Government really cares about the NHS and patient safety they must listen to the words of the medical professionals because when it comes to patient health and well-being, they are the experts and ministers ignore their advice at our peril.”

About Ian Hernon

Ian Hernon is Deputy Editor of Tribune