A top doctor has warned the upcoming bank holiday could break NHS hospitals that are already struggling with winter levels of pressure.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the system had not recovered from an “Easter hangover” – and the three-day weekend could “exacerbate things further”.
He said medics from across the country had reported unprecedented numbers of attendances at emergency departments over the past two weeks, with some seeing around 80 more patients than normal for this time of year.
He warned that many hospitals had been on high alerts levels and any outbreak of norovirus combined with the usual post-bank holiday influx of severely unwell patients who had delayed seeking help could be “disastrous”.
“I am deeply concerned about the reports I am hearing from colleagues across the country and indeed what I am seeing on the ground,” said Dr Scriven.
“It felt like things were improving but the four-day Easter caused havoc, with hospitals that had only just been recovering from another difficult winter back to square one.
“Some hospitals are seeing up to 80 more patients in emergency departments than normal for this time of year and the bank holiday weekend could really stretch services and put a huge strain on drained staff.”
He added: “Most hospitals have now decommissioned any additional winter resources, so any slight rise in pressure through a norovirus outbreak or influx of severely unwell patients could prove disastrous.”
Dr Scriven said while the public could help in some way by utilising care in the community over weekends – such as GP hubs, 111 for non-emergencies, minor injuries units and pharmacies – responsibility rested with the government and NHS leaders.
“While the senior leadership continues to trot out the line that the NHS is busier than ever, they can’t escape from the reality that there is a staffing crisis, social care funding has been inadequate and bed capacity has been cut massively.”
Acute medicine 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.