Senior medic says upbeat NHS winter messages “hiding true picture”

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine.

I think it is fair to say that those within the Department of Health and Social Care are the only people who are happy with the whole Brexit debacle in that it has firmly deviated all attention away from the current state of the NHS.

I note with some amusement the positive spin put out every week by NHS England regarding the weekly situation reports – ‘SitReps’ – and how they claim, for example, a bed occupancy of 0.1% less than this week last year is good.

At the same time, attendances at emergency departments are higher than last year and they seem to refuse to acknowledge the effect of having nearly 2,000 beds closed at present due to norovirus and flu.

They are also seemingly oblivious to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine winter flow metrics, produced weekly, that show performance against the four-hour target in their measured trusts is the poorest ever.

The RCEM quotes “At 77.92%, performance is 3.11 percentage points lower than was the case in 2017-18 and in is, in fact, the lowest performance figure we have ever recorded in the fourth week of January” – despite a bed base that is currently up more than 3% since the beginning of winter.

My take on the SitRep data is that to try to maintain a service we have worked harder than ever in a period of concerted and continual high pressure and, worryingly, this is increasing bit-by-bit as staff tire.

We are starting to see stories in the press around pressure points, most recently the delays in ambulances coming to people’s aid. I fear these are the high profile tips of the iceberg of stress and strain on our NHS.

The relentless upbeat messages from central NHS are hiding the true picture and we again find ourselves saying that comparisons to the ‘crisis’ last year are invalid.

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