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Effects of winter to last “for weeks and months to come”

A leading doctor has warned patients will feel the effects of winter on the NHS “for weeks and months to come” as operations continue to be cancelled across the country.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said hospitals remained under “immense pressure” into spring which indicated the “desperate need” for earlier winter planning.

He also said he had “grave concerns” about the lack of timely data on performance across the NHS and the easing of targets including four-hour emergency access and non-urgent care within 18 weeks.

“As we settle into spring hospitals remain under immense pressure and I am unsure how on earth we are going to catch up with elective surgery given some non-urgent operations continue to be cancelled in parts of the country,” he said.

“The fear is patients will feel the effects of this year’s winter for weeks and months to come and there is no clearer indication of the desperate need for much earlier winter planning if we are to avoid a repeat of this nightmare.

“From now on we call for continuous, accurate and timely data on whole system performance, a review of targets and how they are implemented and, most importantly, a rethink on how we are going to cope with future winters – including the best use of all healthcare resource through hard times.”

Dr Scriven said clinicians in acute and emergency medicine had been working “flat out” for 15 months and it was “distressing” to hear of colleagues not being utilised – an issue highlighted in BBC documentary Hospital.

“There are only so many times acute medical teams can go so far beyond what previously was ‘normal’ – the wells of resolve, energy and hope are running desperately low,” he explained.

“It is distressing for those working so hard to see on national television hospital colleagues complaining they are twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do despite advice for staff to be made available on the frontline during times of significant pressure.

“It all smacks of a lack of preparation and that is not acceptable when medical groups have been warning of the eternal winter in the NHS for the past three years.”

Acute medicine deals with the immediate and early treatment of adult patients with a variety of medical conditions who present to hospital as emergencies.

The specialty receives the majority of patients admitted from A&E and helps maintain the flow of patients through emergency departments to avoid exit block, the term used when patients cannot be moved into a hospital bed.

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