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No respite for nurses as NHS demand hits record levels

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Nurses are facing ever more pressure on their expertise and time, as latest data reveals demand for NHS services is soaring to new levels.

Official figures published last Thursday show demand for NHS acute hospital services is reaching record levels with the number of patients on the waiting list hitting a five year high.

There were 2.88 million patients on the 18 week referral to treatment waiting list in June. This is more than 320,000 up on the same month in 2012, and the highest since April 2008.

Meanwhile, analysis by Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal has found there were 11.8 million GP referrals in the 12 months to June, the highest since reporting began in 2008.

The number of patients admitted through accident and emergency departments is also continuing to rise. In the three months between April and June there were more than 928,000 admissions through type 1 A&Es – more than during any other quarter of the year since reporting began in 2004-05.

Back then the average number of A&E admissions per quarter was 688,988. Despite government policy being to reduce hospital activity, the numbers have continued to rise.

The past 12 months also saw more elective operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons than during any 12 month period since 2004, a sign hospitals are struggling to find beds for emergency patients.

Janet Youd, chair of the Royal College of Nursing Emergency Care Association, told Nursing Times the pressure meant nurses were having to make “very difficult choices” about which patients to prioritise.

“Every day is a busy day now. Gone are the quiet down-times where people used to take stock and discuss things with their colleagues. That informal clinical supervision time has gone,” she said.

“Because of the busyness of departments, sickness rates have risen and study leave is being cancelled,” she added.

Ms Youd said the current healthcare system would “undoubtedly” struggle to meet the growing demand and needed to reform.

Nigel Coomber is director of the NHS Interim Management and Support elective care team, which works with trusts struggling to meet the targets.

He said the main factors behind the growing waiting list were a combination of rising referrals, data collection and validation issues, and the impact of pressure on A&E.

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