Following the release today of NHS performance data for January, Dr Nick Scriven, past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “The fact the NHS is teetering on the brink is now such common knowledge that it is no longer a shock to see continuous failure to meet performance targets and even today, with the figures showing the worst ever performance against emergency targets since data collection began, it will barely raise an eyebrow.
“In January activity was stable compared to last year but performance showed more than 2,800 patients waited more than 12 hours for a bed after it was decided they needed one and only 81.7% of cases met the four-hour target.
“We need to bear in mind that this time last year we were in the middle of the ‘flu season’ and we now know for this time period it peaked in the UK in December and weather-wise so far we have had a relatively benign winter.
“What we do know is that if we do see a cold snap now it would send pressure rocketing right back up on all areas, which would put us perilously close to that brink when the system should be equipped enough to have the flex to cope in such circumstances.
“This performance data, however, is not any reflection on the mammoth efforts of frontline staff to deliver in almost impossible circumstances – something reinforced by those who battled last weekend’s wild weather for their patients.
“Recently we have had guidance saying that trusts should try to keep all their ‘extra capacity’ beds open to try to reduce occupancy levels across the board but the big question we have is how on earth can this be done with current staffing levels.
“Questions still need to be answered about how we have got to a point where staffing vacancies are rife, beds have been drastically reduced and promises to resolve key issues such as the pension tax affecting senior clinicians at the start of the year have come to nothing.”