RECORD LEVELS: NHS’s toughest ever winter warning
Record levels of emergencies, rising Covid admissions and staffing shortages have created a “perfect storm” at Bristol’s hospitals ahead of the “most difficult winter the NHS has ever faced”, health bosses warn.
Frontline workers are under “severe strain” and the impact on them “cannot be underestimated”, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Trust (UHBW) board was told.
Robert Woolley, chief executive of the trust that runs the BRI, Bristol Children’s Hospital and Weston General, said NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, had written to the Government saying the health service was as stretched now as it was at the height of the pandemic in January and things would get worse before they got better.
Mr Woolley said: “The trust is suffering exceptional levels of demand and there is a perfect storm in terms of increased Covid admissions, which we expect to continue for coming weeks, and record levels of emergency demand at the same time as we’re facing staffing challenges.
“There is a small level of Covid infection, some staff are self-isolating or with childcare responsibilities, but also it’s the summer and staff are rightly taking long-delayed leave entitlements.
“Trying to deal with all of that at the same time makes us no different to any other hospital in England at the minute but it is exceptionally challenging.
“Staff who are responding massively are nonetheless under severe strain because they are having to cover the absence of colleagues as well as this record demand.
“NHS Providers has written to the Prime Minister, Secretary of State and the Chancellor describing how all these pressures coming together are leading into what is likely to be the most difficult winter the NHS has ever faced.”
He told the remote meeting on Thursday, July 29, that the Government was still yet to announce NHS funding for the second half of 2021/22.
A report to the board said three out of 10 people visiting the trust’s four emergency departments in June had to wait more than four hours – 5,046 out of 16,871 patients.
It said 146 people had to wait more than 12 hours on a trolley before being admitted to a bed, the vast majority at Weston General, which added pressure on the BRI where ambulance handovers above the 30-minute acceptable limit “continued to be exceptionally high”.
The report said that at the end of June, 3,114 residents had been waiting over a year for the start of treatment, which was actually the third consecutive month of improvement.
“However, overall referral-to-treatment waiting list size continues to increase and is currently 10,331 patients higher at the end of June when compared to March 2020 (pre-pandemic),” it said.
“Patients waiting over two years is also on an upwards trajectory with 72 patients waiting at the end of June.”
It said 112 routine operations (1.8 per cent) were cancelled at the last minute in June.
UHBW medical director Bill Oldfield said: “This report is actually better than we could have hoped for given the pressures everybody is under, and it’s testament to the work everyone is doing.
“People were really short staffed, the demand has gone through the roof and people are really working above and beyond, so I would pay tribute to that.”
Chief nurse Deirdre Fowler said: “The impact on staff morale cannot be underestimated – the conditions they’re working under at the moment and their frustrations in the ability to provide really high standards of care.
“The outcomes we have managed to maintain are absolute testament to their commitment.”
Deputy chief executive and chief operating officer Mark Smith said medics were under “tremendous pressure” but the report highlighted some achievements.
He said: “We have now clinically prioritised every patient that is on a waiting list, which was a massive undertaking with clinicians, and we are doing the same with our diagnostic lists.”
But Mr Smith said the pressures meant the accelerator programme to tackle the backlog of routine surgery as a result of the pandemic was being scaled back.
Bristol health and wellbeing board members were told the day before that 85 people with Covid-19 were in the city’s hospitals.
City council director of adult social care Stephen Beet said: “Although we have had periods where hospitals have been able to focus on the backlog of elective surgery through accelerator programmes, unfortunately we are now in a position where some surgeries are being cancelled.
“The knock-on impact on people’s wellbeing of not being able to access the health services they would normally be able to, and the increasing demand we are facing across social care, means we don’t feel like we are in recovery but are going through different stages of the pandemic.
“People are getting norovirus and flu – now people are mixing more, other viruses are coming back.”
Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG cancelled its monthly governing body meeting on Tuesday, August 3, because of the “increasing pressures on our local NHS and care system”.
The cancellation notice said: “A number of our governing body members are clinical leaders, and this decision supports them to spend their time where it is most needed during this time of increased system pressure.”
Words: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter
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