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Health secretary apologises as thousands of non-urgent operations postponed

12 January 2018

She said: "The NHS has been better prepared for this winter than ever before".

"Instead of running scared, Jeremy Hunt must answer for his party's sustained underfunding of our NHS which has already caused such misery right across the country".

Office workers have been volunteering to help out colleagues in hospitals and GP practices by taking on administrative and cleaning roles over the next five days.

"With all but five hospitals in England running at above the recommended safe bed occupancy level of 85 percent and nearly a fifth running at 99 percent, the system has little to no capacity to handle a major flu outbreak or spike in demand caused by a cold snap over the coming weeks", Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, recently warned.

Some ambulance services resorted to pleading with relatives of the infirm to transport them to hospital themselves, in order to ease the demand placed upon paramedics.

It also deferred day-case procedures and routine outpatient appointments where this would release clinical resources for more urgent cases.

As well as the cancelling of non-urgent treatments, such as knee and hip replacements, hospitals have been given the green light to put patients on mixed sex wards and to bring Global Positioning System into A&E to help deal with patients.

Under NHS rules men and women are supposed to be treated on different wards and breaches can lead to fines.

The measures from the health body were announced following a meeting of its National Emergency Pressures Panel, chaired by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh.

South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) said in the six hours between 10pm on New Year's Eve and 4am on 1 January, SECAmb handled approximately 1,000 999 calls - close to three calls a minute, though this was slightly down on last year.

The hospital said it was seeing a higher than normal number of patients, a greater number of patients whose transfer of care to another health organisation is delayed, and delays within the hospital itself due to staffing and service issues.

"We expect these pressures to continue and there are early signs of increased flu prevalence". The current crisis has seen an unprecedented number of health professionals speaking out, as they have a professional duty to do so, about the threat to patient care.

She added: "Patient safety is being compromised - there's no doubt about that".

NHS England may open more "drunk tanks" in 2018 in a bid to reduce the pressure placed on busy A&E departments and ambulance teams by heavily intoxicated people over next year's festive period, the National Health Executive reports.

A looming flu season is putting even more pressure on hospitals.

Emergency medicine consultant Dr Adrian Boyle, chairman for quality at the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: "Everybody is struggling at the moment".

The advice comes as Milton Keynes University Hospital is telling people only to attend for emergency treatment.

A further nine million people were sent home from A&E a year ago without needing lifesaving treatment, and just needing guidance and advice which could have been given at a pharmacy.

More than 4,100 people attended the two Accident & Emergency departments at Worthing and St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, run by the same trust, over the holiday period.

"And we know that excessive crowding within emergency departments is associated with avoidable deaths".

"We have to look again at NHS funding, which remains well below what other comparable European countries spend on healthcare, to ensure the NHS has the staff and the capacity needed to deal with the pressures it faces year in, year out, but which are compounded during the winter months".

Health secretary apologises as thousands of non-urgent operations postponed