latest health care news

09.03.18

Clear plan needed to clear ‘growing backlog’ of operations after winter cancellations

Over 62,000 fewer NHS treatments, including operations, were performed this winter compared to the previous winter, according to analysis by the Royal College of Surgeons.

Between November 2017 and January 2018, 860,816 operations were performed in the NHS - 62,289 few than during the same period in 2016-17.

In January 2018 there were 294,532 hospital-based treatments carried out than in the same period over the last three years.

However, according to the college, there should actually have been more operations carried out this year because there were 22 normal working days this January, compared to just 21 last year and 20 in January 2016.

Trauma and orthopaedics saw an 8.4% decrease in treatments compared to last winter, with just 150,634 treatments carried out over the three months – a drop of over 19,000 from the previous year.

January alone saw a reduction in trauma and orthopaedic treatments of over 7,000 compared to 2017.

This drop in operations follows the necessary advice issued by NHS England’s emergency pressures panel to postpone all planned surgery for NHS patients in January.

The guidance was intended to relieve pressure on A&E departments by concentrating resources on patients needing emergency treatment.

However, this also resulted in many patients not having surgery at a time when they needed it, extending the duration of their pain or discomfort.

The president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Professor Derek Alderson, called NHS England’s advice a “necessary evil,” that saved patients the distress of turning up at hospital and then having their operations cancelled, as well as freeing up NHS staff and resources to deal with emergencies.

“However, it also inevitably prevented many patients who are in discomfort or pain from having an operation when they needed it, potentially causing their condition to deteriorate,” he added.

Alderson warned that there is more for the NHS to do to improve planning and resources to deal with the demand of next winter, and that it urgently needs a clear plan on how to deal with the “growing backlog” of cancelled operations.

He concluded: “The newly created national emergency pressures panel, of which I am a member, is now needed throughout the year.

“Firefighting each winter is not enough. The retail sector can predict shop footfall based on small changes in temperature – and it prepares for the increase during the Christmas shopping period well in advance.

“The same level of sophistication needs to be applied to the NHS and we must start planning for next winter now.”

Top image: Zdenko Zivkovic

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