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Statement on winter pressures

03 Jan 2018

Yesterday NHS England’s National Emergency Pressures Panel noted that the NHS has been ‘under sustained pressure over the Christmas period’. The Panel recommended that trusts defer non-urgent inpatient elective care until the end of January and that day-case procedures and routine patient appointments ‘should also be deferred where this will release clinical time for non-elective care’. This morning Professor Keith Willett, NHS England, told the Today programme that the pressures at this stage of winter are as bad as those seen in the 1990s. 
Professor Derek Alderson, Royal College of Surgeons’ President and member of the pressures panel said:
‘A number of indicators are showing that this winter has been difficult so far, with evidence of a widespread flu outbreak. We do not have clear evidence from our members that urgent operations are being cancelled, however last year many of the worst pressures came later in the winter period.
“Staff in the NHS are pulling out all the stops to manage the impact on all patients. It is much better that patients are given several weeks’ notice, rather than a day’s, that their operation won’t go ahead. This avoids wasting their time and the guidance from NHS England is helping hospitals to better support their emergency and urgent patients. Unfortunately it is unlikely to help performance against the 18 week waiting time target. 
“Cancelling operations is a necessary evil. But it also highlights the fundamental problem that, despite the welcome extra money provided in the Budget, we still do not have adequate funding or capacity in our health or social care services. If we need to cancel non-urgent surgery until the end of January this year, how bad will it be several years’ from now? The fact that many hospitals have full wards, even after cancelling operations, shows that we simply don’t have sufficient numbers of beds in English hospitals. In fact a recent report from the European Commission showed we have the third lowest in Europe.
“We need to move from continual firefighting and start fixing the more fundamental long-term problems to have a health system that is fully robust for winter months.”

Notes to editors

The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

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