A “fundamental review” of the way health and social care is provided in the UK is needed, according to the Royal College of Nursing, in the wake of latest figures on the winter crisis.
The warning from the RCN follows the publication today of the latest data available on accident and emergency performance, bed availability and occupancy rates, and ambulance handover delays.
“Almost every day last week, NHS hospitals in England were at bursting point”
According to the Winter Situation Report for the week of 25-31 December, around 16,900 patients faced waits of 30 minutes or more in ambulances outside A&E – 4,700 of them of over 60 minutes.
These figures represent the worst figures for ambulance delays for a single week so far this winter, noted the Liberal Democrats.
The party also highlighted that 12 of 137 trusts were 100% full on at least one day, while 57 were at least 99% full on at least one day.
Meanwhile, Labour noted that hospital trusts had reported bed occupancy levels of 91.7% – up from 90.9% the previous week.
In addition, there were 39 A&E diverts in the week to 31 December, the highest number this winter, and 480,400 calls to NHS 111 – the highest number in a single week since the service was created.
“It’s impossible for trusts to open extra beds without more nurses to staff them”
The figures promoted the prime minister, Theresa May, to apologise for the problems being seen, echoing similar comments made on Wednesday by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Earlier this week, NHS England announced that the deferment of non-urgent operations was being extended until at least 31 January, in an attempt to ease the pressure on hospitals.
- Deferment of non-urgent patients extended to end of January
- Trusts told to prepare for ‘expected surge’ over festive period
Ms May said: “I know it’s difficult, I know it’s frustrating, I know it’s disappointing for people, and I apologise.”
Commenting on the weekly winter pressures figures, RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “Almost every day last week, NHS hospitals in England were at bursting point, with over 90% of beds being used, well above the 85% safe limit recommended by experts.
“Lack of beds for new patients is a major factor contributing to the current severe pressure on the NHS, but it’s impossible for trusts to open extra beds without more nurses to staff them,” she said.
“The RCN has been warning of under-investment in nursing staff for several years – now that underlying problem has developed into a full-blown crisis,” said Ms Davies.
She added: “There needs to be a fundamental review of the sort of health and social care we want in this country.”
RCN London regional director Bernell Bussue, said the figures showed the system was “at breaking point”.
“Nursing staff are working harder than ever to care for patients but they are being denied the resources they need whilst record numbers of nursing posts lay vacant,” he said. “Wards are understaffed and staff are overstretched.
“Instead of offering more apologies and empty thanks to health care staff, the government must show it takes the human cost of this crisis seriously and provide the NHS and the social care system with the resources it needs,” he said.
Opposition parties called for more funding in the wake of the latest figures. Labour health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth said: “These figures reveal the shocking scale of the crisis in our NHS this winter.
“Labour and clinicians have warned ministers for months to prepare for this winter, but concerns were casually dismissed out of hand. Theresa May’s boast that the NHS is the best prepared it’s ever been has now been entirely discredited.”
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said: “These figures show the NHS crisis is worsening, with thousands of patients being stuck in ambulances outside A&Es and many hospitals suffering from a severe lack of beds. Every day seems to bring yet more bad news about the state of the health service.
“Ministers refused to provide the funding top NHS officials said was necessary and now patients are paying the price,” he said. “It’s time to give the NHS and care the extra cash they desperately need, by putting a penny on income tax to raise an extra £6bn a year.”