Winter is in full swing across the UK. Health trusts and ambulance services have declared critical events, A&E units are having trouble keeping up with demand, and the NHS is in a very risky position.
Pressure is rising due to strikes, and large flu and COVID-19 patient population.
"If you're at the front line, you know this is a longstanding problem... the sort of things we're seeing happen every winter, and it still seems to come as a surprise," Ian Higginson told BBC radio.
At an urgent meeting, the prime minister urged health officials to take "bold and decisive" measures to address the NHS winter crisis. Adrian Boyle, head of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, highlighted the fact that emergency care is now "acknowledged as a priority" and claimed that the situation is "fixable."
The discussions were planned to center on four main topics: minimizing delays in hospital patients' discharge to social care; how to improve the effectiveness of the A&E and ambulance services; how to reduce waiting times for operations; and how to relieve pressure on GPs.
Although the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, was not present at the meetings, it has urged to engage in negotiations with striking health workers, including nurses, who are demanding higher pay.
More strikes are anticipated for January 18 and 19, and Royal College of Nursing general secretary, Pat Cullen has warned they will be the biggest of their kind if there are no further negotiations on nurses' pay.
Every winter we seem to go through this – another A&E crisis, but it’s important to recognise that what’s going on at the moment is much worse. The system is in distress.
If you go into an emergency department, the people are being looked after in inappropriate areas with long waits to be admitted. And if you go into the wards, they’re full. The problem is that there aren’t enough beds, and hospitals are too full to do the jobs they’re meant to.
The pressure this winter has never been as bad as this, says Adrian. “Yes, covid was an extraordinary time, but this seems worse”. The long waits are what is so dangerous and what has caused the most worry, he adds.
Lives are being lost because of delays. Long waits in emergency departments have caused an increase in mortality, says Adrian. When the NHS is under this kind of pressure, there are consequences in terms of harms and risks for patients.
We need to try minimizing harms and risks this winter as we are in a desperate situation amongst the strikes. Bed capacities are higher and there’s a problem discharging patients from hospital into safe social placements. The whole system is failing - staff are unwell and burnt-out.
You need to make sure you are taking your vitamin B, immune boosters, eating healthy, staying warm and staying away from family/friends who are ill. One of the top priorities should be ensuring your family and kids have had the flu vaccinations.
The number of people in hospital with flu has been on the rise. Kids have constant flu infections and multiple covid tests are being done. The lock downs had people indoors and not being exposed to the viruses. But it is hitting people now as the winter viruses start to circulate.
The UK is in a State of crisis, so anything we can do to reduce occupancy in hospitals is the right thing to do. The community needs to support the NHS during a difficult and challenging winter period. For any urgent care that is not an accident or emergency, you should be seeking alternative services. These include calling 111 – where you can speak to a healthcare professional, attend a walk in or minor injury unit, or speak with your GP and pharmacist.
Take care of yourself this winter, our healthcare system can’t afford to collapse.