Following the release of NHS performance data for January, Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said:
“Although there is less minor illness associated with flu this year, there are more severely ill people than last year which is putting an even bigger strain on the critical care facilities in our hospitals.
“From the weekly situation reports, adult intensive care unit occupancy is higher this year than last for the same week (85.6% v 85%), with 21 ICUs declaring 100% full even on the best day which is same as last year.
“This figure is extremely concerning as it implies that there is no more capacity in the system than last year for the very sickest people with many units full, leading to either delays in treatment or vulnerable patients needing transportation to hospitals perhaps many miles away to find the care they need.
“At the other end of the scale it is worth noting for comparable weeks that ambulance delays seem higher than last year together with virtually identical occupancy rates for general beds and, if anything, slightly higher number of beds closed due to infection.
“With the Royal College of Emergency Medicine figures showing even worse performance against the four-hour target, these figures point to a service under equally severe strain as last winter and actually paints a very different picture to the ‘mood music’ coming out weekly from the NHS.
“Any NHS worker will tell you that the stresses and strains are very real and ongoing with no let up in sight.
“Perhaps the lack of public discussion about the pressures facing us this winter reflect the reality that frontline staff grimly accept that things are tough and have no energy leftover to get agitated in the face of no real improvements over recent years of struggle.”