RCEM president Dr Taj Hassan (pictured) admitted that unacceptable performance at A&Es is now normal
Doctors are telling patients to blame politicians for the NHS’s worst winter on record – rather than the severe flu season and cold weather.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine wants people to write to their MP to complain about A&E care after a key performance target hit its lowest recorded level.
RCEM president Dr Taj Hassan admitted that unacceptable performance at A&Es is now normal. But he blamed the crisis on the Government’s ‘failure to prioritise the need to increase healthcare funding’ and called on the public to lobby MPs.
His comments came as NHS England figures revealed that only 85 per cent of A&E patients were treated or admitted within four hours in February, a record low and well below the 95 per cent target.
Thousands of planned operations were postponed to free resources, while tens of thousands of beds have been taken out of service so far this winter because of norovirus.
Dr Hassan dismissed factors including the spike in flu and norovirus, and pressures caused by immigration, instead blaming insufficient staffing and beds.
NHS England figures revealed that only 85 per cent of A&E patients were treated or admitted within four hours in February, a record low and well below the 95 per cent target
‘Performance that once would have been regarded as utterly unacceptable has become normal and things are seemingly only getting worse for patients,’ he said. ‘The current crisis was wholly predictable and is due to a failure to prioritise the need to increase healthcare funding on an urgent basis.’
The NHS was given an additional £437million of funding to help it cope this winter.
Last night Tory MP Andrew Percy, who formerly sat on the health select committee, said: ‘A&E performances across the UK and the world have struggled this winter due to a very tough flu season. As a Government, we have provided the NHS with more funding and more money than it has ever received in its history. What the NHS doesn’t need is people using this recent incident to make a party political point when we should be working together.’
The Royal College of Surgeons said thousands of patients due to have scheduled operations, such as hip surgery, had them postponed and have suffered a painful winter. At least 62,000 fewer NHS treatments, including surgical operations, were performed by consultants this winter compared to the previous winter, according to the RCS.
Professor Derek Alderson, its president, said the delays were a ‘necessary evil’ given this winter’s pressures.
Experts expressed concern that bed occupancy rates were at an average of 95 per cent during February, above the 85 per cent limit considered safe.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the figures showed there was ‘no more to give’. She said: ‘Safe staffing levels are key to patient safety, and immediate investment is required to train and retain staff.
‘The warning signs are plain to see, and ministers should be under no illusion that failure to act now could be catastrophic.’
Dr Sue Crossland, vice-president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said this winter has had an ‘immense impact on the wellbeing and long term resilience of the core blood of the NHS, its staff’.
‘Staff will be tired, worn out and, unless the NHS leadership and management is careful, will feel that all their efforts have not been recognised in any tangible fashion,’ she added. ‘We cannot let what has happened over the preceding nine weeks become ‘‘normal’’ for the service and it is essential we plan more effectively and much earlier.’
NHS England said staff had been working in a ‘perfect storm’ of appalling weather and persistently high hospital admissions. But a spokesman said despite the challenges the NHS treated 160,000 more A&E patients within four hours this winter, compared with the previous year.
The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘One thousand more people were treated within four hours every single day in February compared to the same month last year.’
A spokesman added that the Government gave the NHS ‘top priority in the recent Budget with an extra £2.8billion allocated over the next two years’.