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NHS England advises trusts to cancel operations this winter as system ‘buckles’

NHS England has told trusts to cancel routine operations and outpatient appointments to take strain off A&E departments this winter, amid warnings the system is already buckling under pressure.

The plans are outlined by NHS England in a submission to the Commons Health Committee’s inquiry in to how the NHS is preparing to cope with the usual increase in admissions expected over the winter months.

But GP leaders warned the NHS is under too much pressure all year round and called for an urgent cash injection to expand capacity across the whole system.

The plans from NHS England, drawn up in conjunction with the Department of Health and NHS Improvement, state that hospital trusts will be expected to have ‘specific plans in place for winter, which will be assured regionally and nationally’.

They will include trusts ‘cancelling some outpatient activity to free senior decision makers to enhance ward presence and accelerate discharge where appropriate’ and ‘reducing admitted elective activity immediately prior to Christmas to create non-elective capacity'. 

It comes after Pulse revealed that NHS St Helens CCG was making plans to ban all non-urgent referrals this winter - which it later backed down on - while NHS Herts Valley CCG told GPs to refer patients to the private sector in a bid to cut local trust’s waiting times.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, told Pulse that hospitals often use measures such as cancelling operations during winter peaks in demand, ‘to rightly focus on urgent cases’.

However, Dr Vautrey added that the whole of the NHS is now facing huge pressure all year round.

He said: ‘The financial and workload pressures facing GPs and hospitals are now having an impact throughout the year, not just winter, and the need for significant additional investment to enable all parts of the NHS to have the necessary capacity to deal with increased patient need has never been more urgent.’

In other evidence, the Royal College of Nursing said hospitals were already ‘buckling under the strain of financial pressures and increased demand for services’ and called for a long-term funding plan, including better social care provision in the community 'so that patients can be assessed and treated appropriately, and so that hospital staff can confidently discharge patients'.

And the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) said the number of acute hospital beds has fallen by 6% over the past five years, yet emergency admissions have risen by 17% over this time.

Dr Cliff Mann, RCEM president, told the Telegraph: 'What is really worrying is that when you look at last winter, the NHS came under very heavy pressures despite mild weather and little flu. All it would take is a bad flu outbreak this winter and we would be poleaxed.'

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The NHS again proved resilient this winter despite further increase in demand, with fewer trusts reporting serious operational issues and a significant reduction in trolley waits.

‘We are already preparing for the upcoming winter with hospitals, GPs, social services and other health professionals coming together to work out the best way of responding in every area of the country.’

Readers' comments (7)

  • We need to expedite the buckle so the catastrophic failure occurs on Hunts watch.The Tory government has to be held to account for what it is responsible for.Shame the opposition is a shambles.

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  • Good time to implement 7 day working for all, impose consultant and GP contracts and cut pay for all staff.

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  • Truely...immensely exciting and very, very, very interesting!

    Slash budgets in half and triple the workload this winter...Truely noble!

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  • I am sure this is more about the money than service delivery - NHS used NHS capital reserves to manage books last year and this wil be the ploy to delay expenditure to after 31st march this year so the books do not look as bad - they must think we are stupid if they think we will swallow this line - I am sure there will be winter pressures - there were little last year with a very very mild winter and still it did not cope because of cut backs by NHS finance and ban on agency working -

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  • An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The NHS again proved resilient this winter despite further increase in demand, with fewer trusts reporting serious operational issues and a significant reduction in trolley waits.

    Really - the winter was exceptionally mild that is why it was not as bad as previous years - lets hope and pray the same is true of this year or god help us is all I say

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  • Run by retards. Sack them all. Oh , they might be then in line for honours.....as they are failures. Upsetting bit is that our athletes were initi to be limited on that list and I am happy that the PM has actually seen the light to unlimit their rewards

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  • "Our ambition should
    be to break down the barriers between private and public provision,
    in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain" Direct Democracy 2005.
    The system cannot survive unless the hospitals can make money via elective work. Stopping it to meet winter demands would lead them to go bankrupt unless they are bailed out by commissioners who in turn go into debt and the cycle continues. Long waiting lists lead to people demanding to go privately within 18 weeks adding to the costs, once they find the private sector very difficult to persuade them back to the NHS. Those non viable trusts will be forced to close and the care model radically changed as in Christchurch Canterbury New Zealand but that was as a result of an earthquake!!

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