Britain’s healthcare system is reeling under pressure from limited staff, limited funds, and increasing number of patients during winter months. The NHS had already implemented a policy of suspending non-urgent care until mid-January, in an effort to free hospital beds, and utilize available staff on the most serious cases. Now however, a further extension of this policy was announced, stretching to the end of January, and potentially putting 55,000 medical interventions on the back burner.
More than simply prolonging this austerity measure, the NHS is forced to extend the list of non-urgent procedures that will be deferred. Thousands more minor ailments now fall under this category.
According to a statement by Dr. Richard Fawcett, overcrowding in hospitals is so severe, that conditions in certain units are resembling those in the Third World. Procedures considered non-urgent include cataract surgery and even hip replacements, and tens of thousands of such operations have already been postponed, with thousands more expected in the following weeks.
The shortage in hospital beds is not the only issue, however, as medical institutions were warned by the National Emergency Pressures Panel (NEPP) to also change their approach to cases which do not require patients to remain in the hospital overnight. This is due to overextended medical personnel. Implementing front-door triage in emergency rooms, opening a consulting line to help general practitioners decide whether patients should be sent to the hospital, enrolling auxiliary medical personnel (including physiotherapists) to help speed-up patient recovery, and other emergency measures will be deployed in the following weeks at NEPP’s recommendation.
A looming flu season is putting even more pressure on hospitals. As an example to the gravity of the situation, the North East Ambulance Service responded to approximately 16,000 calls between the 23rd of December and the 1st of January. Hospitals will begin using non-emergency vehicles to mitigate the limitations imposed by insufficient ambulances.
Multiple hospital directors have stated their appreciation of the new NEPP recommendations, deeming them reasonable, under the circumstances.
The issue touches on politics as well, as Prime Minister Theresa May had pledged to put an end to NHS shortages. Now, Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, stated: “As the NHS enters its 70th year, the truth is that Tory neglect has left it underfunded, understaffed and overstretched. Ministers must get an urgent grip of this escalating crisis.”