Try not to be ill this winter… beds are blocked before the worst weather arrives, and demographics of elderly people mean more and more pressure on a system designed to implode. Irrational decision on funding cancer care ahead of psychological talking therapies, and short termism dominate. Politicians seem to take all opportunities to buy votes cheaply, and have no depth of thinking or longer term planning.
Record numbers of vulnerable patients are getting trapped in hospital as the NHS reaches “breaking point” even before winter truly begins.
Most of the health service’s key targets on A&E waits, 999 response times and cancer were missed in October and the surgery waiting list standard was met only because the worst performing hospitals failed to submit data.
At the end of October, there were 5,328 patients medically fit to leave hospital who were stuck there because no support could be found elsewhere in the NHS or through social services. Over the month, 160,000 bed spaces were lost because of delays finding somewhere for elderly patients to go, the highest number since records began five years ago.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think tank, said: “These bald statistics represent many thousands of patients, often frail and elderly, who have finished their medical treatment but can’t leave hospital because there isn’t enough support for them to go back to their own homes, or even to care homes. That’s not surprising when £1.7 billion has been cut from local councils’ social care budgets since 2010.” According to his analysis, 3.6 per cent of patients occupy a third of beds, piling further pressure on hospitals which are on course for a £2.2 billion overspend this year.
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The NHS is in danger of reaching breaking point. We cannot afford to be in a situation where hospitals are forced to refuse admissions because beds are occupied by people with dementia, who would be better supported in the community. You cannot make the NHS safe or sustainable without investing in social care.”
In October, 92.3 per cent of A&E patients were dealt with in under four hours; the 95 per cent target has been met only once in more than a year. Only 73.3 per cent of ambulances reached life-threatening emergencies within eight minutes, the fifth month in a row the 75 per cent target has been missed.
Official figures showed the NHS meeting its target for 92 per cent of patients to wait less than 18 weeks for non-urgent operations, but analysis showed that hospitals with some of the worst records failed to report, suggesting that the target was probably missed for the first time since 2012.
Dame Barbara Hakin, national director of commissioning operations for NHS England, said: “Our staff continue to provide quality services in the face of increasingly high levels of demand.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We gave the NHS £400 million more to help prepare for winter earlier than ever this year and our hospitals are coping well under pressure, with the vast majority of patients being seen within the four-hour A&E target.”