NHS crisis continues as fifth of hospitals on high alert for half of 2017 to date

A fifth of hospital trusts in England have reported a high-level alert - warning of extreme pressure affecting patient care - on 50% of days in 2017 to date or more, GPonline analysis of NHS data reveals.

The alarming figures show that major pressure on hospitals - which GP leaders have warned will have a knock-on effect on practices for months to come - has yet to abate after the Christmas holiday period.

GPonline analysis of daily situation report data from hospital trusts across England reveals that two hospital trusts in England have been on a level three or four alert under the operational pressures escalation levels (OPEL) framework - indicating extreme pressure that has compromised patient flow or that the trust is unable to deliver comprehensive care - throughout 2017 so far.

A total of 36 out of the 152 trusts in England reported OPEL level three or four alerts on more than half of the 30 weekdays counted in official NHS statistics to date in 2017. One in six trusts - 24 in total - have reported level three or four alerts on 20 or more days in 2017 to date.

NHS crisis

The crisis is at its most acute across the South of England NHS region, with the area's 36 hospital trusts reporting a level three or four alert on an average of 17 out of 30 days.

The Midlands is the next hardest-hit, with trusts reporting level three or four alerts on 7 days out of 30 on average. In the North of England NHS region trusts have reported high-level alerts on 4 days out of 30 on average, while London has largely escaped declaring level three or four alerts.

The findings came as the BMA warned that the NHS was 'at breaking point'.

BMA chair Dr Mark Porter warned on Monday that patients were being unfairly let down by a lack of beds in hospitals, as the union published a report showing that across the UK the number of overnight hospital beds per head had fallen by a fifth in a decade, while demand has risen.

Dr Porter said: 'The UK already has the second lowest number of hospital beds per head in Europe per head and these figures paint an even bleaker picture of an NHS that is at breaking point. High bed occupancy is a symptom of wider pressure and demand on an overstretched and underfunded system.

Patient care

'It causes delays in admissions, operations being cancelled and patients being unfairly and sometimes repeatedly let down. The delays that vulnerable patients are facing, particularly those with mental health issues, have almost become the norm and this is unacceptable.

'Failures within the social care system are also having a considerable knock-on effect on an already stretched and underfunded NHS. When social care isn’t available, patients experience delays in moving from hospital to appropriate social care settings which damages patient care and places a significant strain on the NHS.

'In the short term we need to see bed plans that are workable and focused on the quality of care and patient experiences, rather than financial targets. But in the long term we need politicians to take their heads of out the sand and provide a sustainable solution to the funding and capacity challenges that are overwhelming the health service.'

The findings came as pollsters suggested that patients are becoming increasingly concerned about the health service as the crisis continues to affect services.

Official data show that hundreds of urgent operations were cancelled in December, and pressures have continued throughout the first month of 2017 with under-pressure hospitals forced to delay non-emergency operations and outpatient appointments. In January the British Red Cross warned that NHS problems amounted to a 'humanitarian crisis'.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said earlier this month that the restrictions on hospital treatment had a big impact on general practice. 'Many patients who would otherwise be expecting to have surgery done or an outpatient appointment get cancelled, and they come back to the GP and ask why.

'This adds bureaucracy and extra appointments onto already overstretched GP services.'

Responding to the BMA report on hospital beds, an NHS England spokesman said: 'Modern treatment advances such as minimally invasive surgery, fast acting anaesthetics, and medicines taken at home mean that the length of time patients spend in hospital has been falling in all western countries. The NHS is highly efficient overall, but there are still meaningful differences in discharge practices and community support across England.'

Photo: iStock

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in