NHS boss rejects claim of 'humanitarian crisis' in hospitals
Health service disputes Red Cross claim after charity said more funding was needed to make system sustainable
Chris Johnston and agencies
Saturday 7 January 2017 13.49 GMT First published on Saturday 7 January 2017 13.23 GMT
The NHS has rejected claims it is facing a “humanitarian crisis” as it deals with winter pressures after it emerged that two patients had died on trolleys in one accident and emergency department in the last week.
The Red Cross said it had stepped in to help NHS England deal with the increased demand put on the service over the colder months. The charity’s chief executive, Mike Adamson, said extra cash was needed for health and social care to make the system sustainable.
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“The British Red Cross is on the frontline, responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country,” he said. “We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much-needed beds.”
Keith Willett, director of acute care for NHS England, said the health service had worked with the charity over recent winters, funding and supporting its “excellent service at home and ambulance service”. He said: “But on the international scale of a humanitarian crisis, I do not think the NHS is at that point.”
Willett added: “Clearly, demand is at the highest level ever, but also our planning is probably more comprehensive than it has ever been. In many ways this is a level of pressure we have not seen before and the workload that the NHS is being asked to shoulder in terms of medical treatment and personal care is very high.
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“There are several reasons for that. There is the winter and many more people have breathing and heart problems, but we know it is also very difficult at the moment and social care and community services are not able to react fast enough to free up beds to keep up the flow through hospitals.”
The biggest problem was moving patients through the hospital, Willett said. “Many commentators have said if there is more money to be had then it should be directed at social care in the community first, and that will help the NHS more than anything else at the moment,” he said.
The latest figures show overflowing A&E departments have shut their doors to patients more than 140 times in December.
On Friday, a national body said a third of health trusts in England had issued alerts that they needed urgent action to cope last month, with seven of those unable to provide comprehensive care.
Worcestershire Royal hospital also opened an investigation on Friday following the deaths of two patients who had been waiting on trolleys in corridors for many hours. It is believed that one woman died of a heart attack after waiting for 35 hours on a trolley in a corridor, and another man suffered an aneurysm while on a trolley, and could not be saved.
It is also believed that another patient was found hanged on a ward at the Worcestershire Royal hospital, which admitted that it was under serious pressure, partly as a result of the extra strain hospitals face during winter. The deaths are said to have happened between New Year’s Day and 3 January.
Meanwhile it was disclosed that the London ambulance service suffered a computer blackout on New Year’s Eve that forced call-handlers to revert to pen and paper on the busiest night of the year.
Many other patients who visited Worcestershire Royal hospital this week told the Guardian of long waits in A&E, corridors lined with patients, and overstretched staff doing their best to cope.
Dr Mark Holland, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “We are asking NHS staff to provide a world-class service, but with third-world levels of staffing and third-world levels of beds. That so many other hospitals in England are facing the same pressures as the one in Worcester means that other fatalities could occur. I would suggest that the same thing could happen in other hospitals, because lots of hospitals are under the same pressures.”
Dr Taj Hassan, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said figures it obtained from hospitals across the UK showed some were treating as little as 50%-60% of A&E patients within four hours – far below the 95% target.