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Senior medic fears repeat of “nightmare winter”

A senior medic fears a repeat of this year’s “nightmare winter” in the NHS due to a “reluctance to think radically”.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said it was the “definition of stupidity” to believe the current “flawed” system could remain in place when it is no longer effective.

“Earlier this month the latest NHS performance data – for March – showed the service to be running at its worst since records began in 2003/04 and that’s the year-long reality we now face,” he explained.

“We face a triple threat of spiralling agency and locum costs to cover additional beds opened, continued high admissions and a backlog of elective cancellations to recover alongside current bookings – and that is happening right now.

“Now should be the time to start talking and planning – isn’t the definition of stupidity doing the same flawed thing every year expecting it to work when it clearly no longer does?

“There already seems to be a reluctance to even consider thinking about the next pressure points or tackling things now for the future and there is also a very disappointing reluctance to even consider anything vaguely radical.”

A report released yesterday by Lord Darzi suggested the NHS in England needs £50bn more by 2030 to help cope with the ageing population, technology and inflation

But Dr Scriven said while additional funding is needed, immediate actions can be considered now, such as the routine postponement of non-urgent operations during January and February to ease pressure by freeing up beds.

He also said he was “concerned” for the “health and sanity” of “overstretched and unloved staff” who were “worn out” after 17 months of constant pressure.

“Acute medicine in particular is a high pressure and hard work environment that glues together urgent and emergency services and staff are frankly worn out now by 17 months of almost constant pressure,” he said.

“There is only so long and so many times they can go the extra mile before their own health and suffers.

“They need to feel ‘loved’ by the system and that just doesn’t happen enough – if at all – and there is no surer way of demotivating frontline staff than by not starting to think how to make it a bit better.”

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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