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UK hospitals expecting ‘mayhem’ when cold snap hits, top doctor says

UK hospitals expecting ‘mayhem’ when cold snap hits, top doctor says

Hospitals will be hit by “mayhem” this weekend because of the coming cold snap, a growing number of people with flu and the NHS’s staffing problems, a leading doctor has warned. Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said hospitals will face “severe difficulties” this weekend as lower temperatures lead to a…

Hospitals will be hit by “mayhem” this weekend because of the coming cold snap, a growing number of people with flu and the NHS’s staffing problems, a leading doctor has warned.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said hospitals will face “severe difficulties” this weekend as lower temperatures lead to a surge in patients needing care.

“Influenza is here and is already impacting the NHS and, with colder weather starting to set in, this will further stress already stretched services.

“I and many colleagues across the country are anticipating mayhem this weekend as temperatures drop, but it will come as no surprise to us,” Scriven said.

Some A&E units and intensive care units are already full, especially with people who have serious breathing problems, he disclosed.

“Within the last week I have had colleagues warning of emergency departments and intensive care units being full and that will only worsen in the coming weeks”, added Scriven.

“Skeleton staffing” of social care services over the festive period has meant patients who are medically fit to leave have not been able to get home from hospital, he added. “The capacity problems this will cause will be profound,” he added.

Hospitals’ ability to withstand a sudden increase in winter-related illness will also be compromised by the NHS being “horrendously understaffed”, Scriven said. Official figures show that the NHS in England has 103,000 vacancies, including for 42,000 nurses and 10,000 doctors.

Scriven’s comments came as NHS England revealed today that almost 40,000 people so far this winter have had to spend at least 30 minutes with an ambulance crew because A&E units were too busy to accept them.

In all, 39,426 patients who have arrived at hospital in an ambulance over the first four weeks of winter have been forced to wait half an hour or more before being handed over to A&E staff. The figure represents one in 10 of everyone who arrived by ambulance.

Of those, 32,422 people waited between 30 and 60 minutes and the other 7,004 had to wait with paramedics for an hour or more.

In another sign of the rising pressures in the NHS as winter takes hold, A&E units were also forced to divert patients to a nearby hospital 87 times in the four weeks ending last Sunday, 30 December.

That is more than the 72 “diverts” that occurred in the first four weeks of winter last year, which saw the NHS’s worst “winter crisis” for many years. But it is fewer than the 101 diverts that occurred two years ago, in 2016/17.

There were 25 diverts in week one, 30 the week after, 15 in the week before Christmas and then 17 in the week that included Christmas.

Hospitals have not come under the same strain as last year so far this winter because of a combination of relatively mild weather and the fact that fewer people than usual have caught flu.

NHS leaders and government ministers hope measures taken by scores of hospitals, such as adding extra beds and expanding the size of their A&E, will help the service cope with the extra demands winter involves.

“Thanks to the hard work and preparation of NHS staff the health service is performing better this winter than last, with people being seen more quickly in emergency departments, fewer ambulance delays, evening and weekend GP appointments across the country and more people able to leave hospital and get home sooner,” said an NHS spokesperson.

Hospitals have added about 900 extra beds to help with the likely influx of patients with winter illness, the Department of Health and Social Care said. “Winter resilience funding” of £420m will help the NHS deal with winter’s challenges, it said.

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