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13.02.17

Surgeons left ‘kicking their heels’ as bed shortage crisis causing delays

Health groups have warned that delays to operations because of a lack of hospital beds has led to a crisis of surgeons “kicking their heels”, as they wait for beds to become available for surgery.

In a letter to the Sunday Times, Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons and Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, identified underfunding designed to drive productivity in the NHS as the problem, as staff including surgeons were being forced to wait for beds to be made available for operations.

The lack of social care in the community was also cited as a factor in the crisis, as elderly patients could not be discharged from hospital as there was not sufficient support in place to ensure they could be cared for at home.

In the letter, they warned: “Compared to most European countries the NHS is underfunded. It has been assumed this is helping to drive productivity but now, at times, it is clear underfunding in our health service is creating more inefficiency.

“Because of bed shortages, staff including surgeons are now sometimes left kicking their heels, waiting for beds to become available so they can operate.

“Too often managers, nurses and doctors waste time trying to find somewhere to look after patients. At a time when the NHS is being told to make the most of its resources, this is a shocking waste.

“At a time when the NHS is being told to make the most of its resources this is a shocking waste.”  

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted last week in an interview with the BBC that performance in elements of the NHS was “completely unacceptable.”

For safety reasons, bed occupancy should not exceed 85%, but the letter revealed that overnight bed occupation routinely rose to 89%.

The Nuffield Trust last year warned that the NHS needed an additional 3,466 extra beds or the equivalent of five hospitals to keep services running.

In 2016, hospitals saw a record number of urgent operations cancelled due to a shortage of staff and a lack of unoccupied beds.

Marx and Hopson have called on NHS England and NHS Improvement to undertake a “review of what we can do to reduce the pressures we’ve seen this winter”.  This echoes the call from NHS Providers last month to have a review completed by April.

This winter has shown some of the worst performance figures against the four-hour target in A&E, leading Jeremy Hunt to consider downgrading the target to only apply to ‘urgent’ cases. It was also revealed that in December ‘major pressures’ were so intense that one third of NHS trusts warned it was affecting patient care.

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