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02.05.19

‘Worst winter on record’ as BMA warns of ‘hidden crisis’ in NHS

The BMA has warned that the NHS is in a “hidden crisis” of rising waiting times and intense pressures after the health service experienced its worst winter on record.

The doctors trade union said that despite muted public debate and scrutiny on the issue compared to last year, the council’s chair Dr Chaand Nagpul stated that behind the statistics, “the NHS has plunged deeper into crisis this winter.”

With the NHS under intense pressure once again in 2018-19, A&E attendances and emergency admissions up, dangerously high bed occupancy, doctors overworked and waiting times growing, the BMA said policy setters need to respond “urgently.”

Almost a third of NHS trusts hit 100% bed occupancy over the winter period, and the waiting list has now risen to over 4.3 million people.

One in four patients waited over four hours at major A&Es and the BMA said that performance against the four-hour target “remains very poor,” just 0.1% better than last winter, but trolley waits reached “historically very high levels.”

Around 214,000 patients were left waiting over four hours on trolleys and there were 292 A&E patients diverted across 32 trusts, but the BMA said there were zero parliamentary debates on the NHS winter crisis.

The BMA also said the majority of doctors were working outside their regular hours and four in 10 NHS staff reported feeling unwell as a result of work stress, supporting a report last week claiming the majority of doctors are at high risk of “burnout.”

In cancer care, far more trusts failed to meet their major targets than last year, with only five trusts keeping their average bed occupancy below 85% over the winter quarter, which comes as the NHS prepares to pilot new rapid care measures to replace and overhaul its current target system.

Dr Nagpaul commented: “Behind these statistics, which show the NHS plunged deeper into crisis this winter, are stories of real lives in distress.

“Forcing a patient to wait two months for their first cancer treatment is shameful for a leading nation and as a doctor, I can imagine only too well the distress this will cause to them and their families.”

The report makes nine recommendations to relieve the huge pressure currently on the NHS, including 10,000 hospital beds, a select committee inquiry, action on NHS pensions, and an increase in funding to match similar Western European countries.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “If it wasn’t for the professionalism of our hard-working members, England could have easily witnessed scenes that would have recalled the crises of years gone by, that we were promised would never be seen again.

“The lack of a fully funded workforce strategy, with accountability for delivering safe staffing levels enshrined in law, has led to another winter when patients haven’t received the quality care they need and deserve.”

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