Pre-planned operations ‘should be cancelled for two months each year’

By Ella Pickover, Press Association health correspondent

Scrapping all pre-planned procedures for two months of the year may be one radical solution to the NHS’s winter pressure problems, the Society for Acute Medicine has said.

In an interview with the Press Association, Dr Nick Scriven, president of the society, which represents doctors who specialise in the care of adults who are admitted to hospital as an emergency, said some doctors have called on the health service to consider stopping elective activity throughout January and February.

Hospitals in England were told to delay elective operations and routine outpatient appointments throughout January this year due to severe winter pressures.

But they were advised that urgent cases and cancer care should still proceed as planned.

Dr Scriven questioned whether postponing elective procedures should become a routine measure to help ease pressure on hospitals.

This winter hospitals were forced to open previously-closed “mothball” wards and turn investigations areas into makeshift wards.

Dr Scriven said that he had even heard of one hospital which had closed a birthing unit for a few days to make space for medical patients in need of inpatient beds.

He said that the NHS had “just coped” over winter but this was based on the goodwill of staff.

When asked what the solution should be, he said: “People in power have to sit up and take notice that this isn’t going to get better and unless something radical is done it is going to get worse.

“There are the things that people always talk about, like this year the NHS suggested that people should suspend elective activity for a month, should that be a routine thing?

“To free up the extra ward in every hospital in January and February.

“That would be one radical thing.”

Meanwhile, no more acute beds should be closed, he added.

The comments come after a document published on the House of Commons Library highlighted the significant pressures on the health service in England over winter.

Hospitals almost full to capacity, long waits for patients and ambulance delays were featured in the document.

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