A patient lying on an A&E floor and medics with depression – the NHS this week

By Richard Grimes

We monitor 700 news websites across England for current stories about local NHS services. This update is collated from this monitoring over the last week. The national media are led by press releases from the Department of Health, pressure groups and metropolitan think tanks. Sentinel News reflect local priorities about local NHS services. (All links go to the original news reports)

A&E overload

Easter weekend tends to be one of the busiest times for emergency departments. This can be seen from local news reports.

  • Royal Oldham Hospital said that over the Easter weekend staff were under “severe pressure” and had seen “record numbers of patients”. “For the fourth day running, patients have been asked to stay away unless seriously ill due to pressure on emergency admissions.” The trust added that some patients turning up at A&E “were having to wait up to seven hours to be treated after triage”.
  • Broomsfield Hospital in Chelmsford struggled to cope with a “code black” emergency. A woman suffering from a rare illness “was forced to lie on a cold A&E floor for 12 hours while hospital staff struggled to cope”.
  • The mounting pressures staff faced “from a spiralling influx of patients, a lack of available beds and delays in treatment” at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth is pushing staff to “breaking point” according to a whistleblower. A nurse said “A&E medics are being stretched to breaking point with many already battling depression” and that “we’re having to have group counselling sessions and a lot of people are taking time off sick with depression”.
  • Telford Hospital issued a “black alert” over the weekend which “effectively means the hospital does not have enough bed capacity to cope”, a source who works at the site said.
  • Peterborough City Hospital faced an “unprecedented 40 per cent rise in the number of patients turning up this week”. The hospital said if the condition is ‘non-critical’, they are advised to take an alternative treatment route.
  • Wakefield Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board were told that Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust saw an increase in A&E attendances by over 6,000 over the last year: “…during February the trust was consistently using between 90 and 136 extra beds. This has an impact on patient flow which affects both the length of time people wait in A&E and the time taken from referral for planned procedures to being treated.”
  • Epsom and St Helier Hospitals Trust missed its NHS A&E waiting time target for the fifth month in a row in January. The trust pointed out that in spite of missing the national targets the trust was performing better than most London hospitals: “Within London only one trust – Homerton – hit the target of 95 per cent of patients being seen within four hours of admittance.”

Staff numbers

A Yorkshire Post editorial on staffing levels said: “After ordering NHS trusts to cut the amount of money spent on temporary ‘locum’ staff in order to balance their books, there’s now a shortage of doctors and nurses prepared to work these shifts for significantly reduced pay”. Dewsbury MP Paula Sheriff disclosed in Parliament that the chief executive of Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust “has been in ‘crisis mode’ for 14 months”. Dr Cliff Mann, head of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine told the newspaper: “Since locum caps came in we are seeing data from a number of trusts – in Barnsley, Leeds, Bolton, Plymouth and London which shows 50 and 60 per cent of shifts going unfilled”.

Privatisation

  • The East Staffordshire Trades Union Council will hold a public meeting on 30th March about the future of the NHS in East Staffordshire in light of a £270 million contract with Virgin Health starting in April. Paul Walker, chairman of ESTUC, said: “This meeting is all about making people aware that the NHS is being privatised piece by piece via the back door.”
  • Chris Long, chief executive of Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, has admitted private firms could be brought in to provide NHS hospital services for patients: “There are some areas of the business that could be done to an adequate standard by another provider.” In response to the Trust’s poor A&E waiting time figures, Long said: “We simply do not have enough senior medical staff in the emergency department and they are almost impossible to recruit because they don’t exist.”
  • Salford Royal is “looking for a private company to provide patients with ‘cook-chill’ meals”. In response a campaign and petition dubbed ‘Stop the Slop’ has been launched by Unison members. The system has been branded a “false economy” because “cook-chill meals will cost more per patient and offer less nutritional value than those prepared fresh”.
  • On 1st April, Landsdowne GP practice in Bedford will be taken over by the private provider Horizon Health Choices when the contract between the existing GP partnership and NHS England expires.

Changing services

The future of Hinchingbrooke Hospital is in doubt again. The hospital was franchised to private firm Circle Health in February 2012, but in January 2015 the hospital returned to NHS management after Circle proved it could not clear the Trust’s debts. Since then there have been rumours the trust will have to merge with the neighbouring Peterborough and Stamford NHS Trust. Last week the local MP, Jonathan Djanogly, said that “a merger between the two trusts was ‘still very much on the table’ and that he remained opposed to it”. He added: “We are now considering the next step to keep up the pressure and make sure the strength of local feeling is recognised. We are looking at organising a march through the town centre and are currently liaising with the police.”

Cuts

In response to cuts in government funding, Leicester City Council have outlined £1 million of cuts to the public health budget. The government have cut £1.6 million from the current public health budget of £26.2 million. The council’s proposals mean “spending on NHS health checks, work to prevent smoking, and promote exercise” will be “pared back”. The council’s deputy city mayor described the government’s cuts as “illogical and ridiculous”.

Problems

In Boston, demand pressures at the Pilgrim Hospital meant that a patient has had the date of his operation for a hernia repair cancelled five times. The latest scheduled date for the operation is 1st April and “he is hopeful this time the operation will go ahead because he has been offered a bed in Pilgrim’s private wing, the Bostonian”.

The private Priory psychiatric hospital in Marchwood, Hampshire, has been told to improve by the healthcare regulator CQC. The regulator found “multiple ligature points – handles and other objects that could be used by patients intent on self-harm” and said that they “did not receive the necessary assurance that the provider had taken effective steps to address the risk”.

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