The length of this list of NHS cuts and crises speaks for itself…. 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)

Treatment waiting times

A woman in Northampton suffering from PTSD called a mental health crisis line and “after getting passed to several different offices, she spoke to nobody who could help. When she finally got the medication she was seeking, it was three days later”. The woman described the service she received as “absolutely useless”.

In Brighton “more than 9,800 patients out of 36,000 at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust have yet to receive treatment more than 18 weeks after being referred by their GP” and “89 of these have been waiting more than a year”. Action being considered to help cut waiting lists includes “a temporary pause of new referrals to the digestive diseases department and commissioning other organisations to carry out some appointments and treatment for those services under particular pressure”.

Somerset CCG are proposing to pay Yeovil Hospital not to admit patients. “Incentive payments will be made to the hospital where admissions deemed non-essential are avoided, focusing on people who are repeatedly admitted with long-term health conditions such as cancer and diabetes which can be treated away from the hospital wards.”

A&E waiting times

  • South East Ambulance Service said they had received 9,500 emergency calls over the Easter weekend and said it was working at a “critical level, one level away from declaring a service failure”. Clinical director Andy Newton praised “exhausted” staff and said it was “one of the most difficult periods” in his 10 years.
  • Southend Hospital “did not have enough staff, beds or capacity for new patients for more than half of last year”. The hospital “has regularly had to upgrade its status to black and critical alert – the two highest – because of severe capacity issues, a lack of staff to cope with demand”. James Moyies, who is responsible for health at Southend Council, said: “The whole health system in south Essex is in a critical situation. We don’t have enough staff or money”.
  • Last year over 1,000 people had to wait 12 hours or more at A&E at Walsall Manor Hospital, this was “more than the previous two years combined”. In January 2013, 13 people waited 12 hours or more, this rose to 15 in January 2014 and then to 211 in January 2015, “an increase of 1,400 per cent”. Steven Vaughan, the interim chief operating officer said: “We continue to face significant pressure from the number of admissions to our emergency department, including patients from Staffordshire who are now coming to Walsall for treatment.”
  • Doncaster Royal Infirmary had “record numbers” of A&E attendances in January: “8,035 people attended. This amounts to an 18 per cent rise on the number of attendances for the same month in 2015 and marks the highest number of January visits to the department since 2011”.
  • St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester warned that the emergency department on Tuesday was under “severe pressure”. Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Non-emergency patients are likely to have an extremely long wait and could be taking staff away from caring for patients who need emergency or life-saving care.”
  • Sandwell Hospital says “it has used 60 additional beds since January”. The Trust said: “We do remain concerned by the large number of extra beds open at Sandwell this winter, which place additional pressure on all clinicians, and increase our reliance on temporary staff. We are working to close these beds, and had reduced the number to 20, but have not been able to sustain that improvement going into Easter.”
  • A “surge” of emergency patients at Hereford has resulted in the cancellation of 35 elective operations. The trust said “more than 1,000 patients have attended the Emergency Department since Good Friday”.
  • Ambulance staff in Wigan are at “breaking point”. Lisa Ryan, GMB regional organiser, said: “Ambulance staff have seen a significant rise in calls, especially those with serious and life threatening conditions in the past months. Those calls are now being stacked within control rooms due to no vehicles being available to send. Staff are now at breaking point; increasingly frustrated, hanging around hospital corridors knowing that patients in the community are waiting for their help. They should not be expected to look after patients in hospital corridors while people suffer in the street.”
  • A&E attendances at Peterborough City Hospital over the Easter weekend “was up 10 per cent during Easter compared to the same period last year, despite pleas by health chiefs to consider other options”. The hospital saw “unprecedented demand at the Emergency Department with a 40 per cent rise in patients turning up”.
  • On Thursday “patients are facing waits of more than six hours at the accident and emergency departments” at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital and Cheltenham General Hospital.
  • A total of 17 operations were cancelled at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust last week. The chief operating officer, Debbie Kadum, said: “This is one of the busiest periods any of us can remember. So far this week we have seen an average of nearly 360 people attending our emergency departments every day. Unfortunately, these demands have put a great deal of pressure on our services and we have had to cancel 17 operations as a direct result.”

Service cuts

  • Mid Essex CCG have performed a u-turn by scrapping controversial plans to remove GP referrals to physiotherapy and restrict access to hearing aid services. However, the CCG are still looking to cut some access to physiotherapy: “only patients with ‘significant pain levels or functional impairment’ would be immediately referred to physiotherapy, with other patients given online support and advice on self-management or referrals at a later date.” Access to hearing services will be changed by introducing a “one stop shop”, a decision welcomed by Action on Hearing.
  • The weekend drop-in centre in Boscombe has closed “due to the costs of running the service”. The service had been provided by a company called New Wave, whose staff were handed their redundancy notices earlier this month.
  • NHS England have suggested moving vascular services from Portsmouth’s Queen Alexandra Hospital to Southampton. Portsmouth councillor John Ferrett said: “There are concerns of QA not only losing vascular but other services because of a knock-on effect. I have concerns about QA losing its role and expertise.”
  • East Riding CCG are “considering an option to close minor injury units in Hornsea, Withernsea and Driffield”. Councillor Barbara Hall said: “We’ve got hundreds of applications for hundreds of new houses to be built around the East Riding and those people need MIUs”.
  • Last September the 14-bed community hospital in Thirsk, the Lambert Memorial Hospital, was temporarily closed “due to a shortage of nurses”.
  • On the Isle of Wight “staff shortages and a huge surge in patients have been blamed for the end of the 24/7 walk-in service” during the evenings and the weekend at The Beacon Centre based at St Mary’s Hospital.
  • The Special Care Dental Service at Southampton General Hospital, which offers treatment under general anaesthetic to around 800 children who have learning difficulties or are too scared to visit ordinary practices, closed on Friday. “Families will have to travel to Basingstoke, Portsmouth or Winchester until a site is found because nearby clinics cannot administer general anaesthetic.”
  • An online petition has been launched to save Hinkley District Hospital from closure. The local CCG says “maintenance costs for the Victorian building are about £1.5 million with a further £1.3 million required to bring it up to scratch”. Campaigners say that “the hospital does not figure in future plans” of the CCG.
  • A&E departments at Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals in Lancashire were “brought to the brink of closure by acute staff shortages”. The department “has so many unfilled vacancies that it was nearing the point where it would not have been able to safely operate A&E departments at both” hospitals. However, “at the last moment trust bosses decided that they would breach a national pay cap on agency staff – brought in by the government – in order to get the staff they need.”
  • The government are planning to cut the community pharmacy budget by £170 million. The All Party Pharmacy Group expects the cuts to result in the closure of between 1,000 to 3,000 pharmacies across England. The local press last week included the responses from many pharmacy owners. In Bristol Margaret Hook, who runs Banwell Pharmacy, said: “Without funding I can’t see how independent pharmacies will be able to survive. We will all have to close. And lots of the chains have said they will look at automatic services as an alternative. The automatic services don’t offer the same expertise and it seems from the ones already running they are a lot slower.”

Privatisation

A private company, InspireBetterHealth, will deliver healthcare services at five prisons in the South West for the next five years. The company is a partnership of Hanham Health, GP Care, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, Time for Teeth, Homecare Opticians, Day Lewis Pharmacy, Sirona Care and Health CIC, and Bristol Community Health – who will be the lead healthcare provider.

The private company that ran 20 GP practices in Merseyside was told in February by NHS England that its contract would not be renewed. It has now been revealed that SSP Health’s three-year deal to manage 20 practices in Liverpool and Sefton was worth £26.7m. Four of the practices were rated as “inadequate” by CQC and “Sefton council also revealed there was a high number of complaints against the firm, many from angry patients who struggled to get appointments”.

A private company, Anglian Community Enterprise, has been chosen by North East Essex CCG to run its Closer to Home service on a £237 million contract.

Children’s services in Wiltshire have now been privatised. “The deal worth almost £13 million sees Virgin Care take over the contract for services including health visiting, children’s community nursing, and speech and language therapy.” Dr Helena McKeown, a local GP said: “It’s a bit like removing blocks from a Jenga tower. We don’t know at what point the whole NHS is going to fall down.”

Other Issues

The new Lorenzo computer system launched in Sheffield hospitals is causing ‘chaos’ for people booking appointments. “This new IT system is causing chaos for patients. I’ve had appointments cancelled last minute. I’ve even turned up to an appointment to be told the doctor I was supposed to see was giving a lecture in Doncaster”. The trust described the situation as “teething problems which we are resolving with our technology partners”.

Derriford Hospital in Plymouth is predicting a deficit of £36 million this financial year. The hospital has received “unprecedented numbers of patients“ at A&E “resulting in heightened states of alert and creating severe knock-on effects to other services.” However this has meant that the hospital has missed A&E waiting time targets and “is facing fines of over £5 million” thereby further increasing its deficit.

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