Doctors fear for patient safety this winter, poll reveals

More than half of frontline medical staff fear their hospitals will not be able to keep patients safe this winter, an “alarming” new poll has revealed.

A new poll by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) found that 58% of doctors felt “worried” or “very worried” about the ability of their hospital to deliver safe patient care over the winter months.

Fewer than one in five of the 1,761 doctors, trainees, consultants and specialist medics polled said they were “confident” or “very confident” about preparations for the increased pressures winter is likely to place on the NHS.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth branded the findings “alarming” and said ministers must ensure there is proper cash available to meet winter pressures.

He added: “This is an alarming poll of doctors on the frontline and indicates the health secretary must do more to prepare the NHS this winter.

“There was no extra cash for acute trusts in the recent budget for winter and we know many hospitals are facing intense pressures following this year’s ‘summer crisis’.

Labour NHS funding warning
Labour NHS funding warning

“It would be unforgivable if patients suffer another winter like last year. Ministers urgently need to reassure us they have a plan and will make proper funds available.”

The poll also found less than a third of doctors had been asked to take part in planning for winter and 96% did not know how extra cash promised for social care will be used to relieve pressure on their hospitals.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced last month an extra £240 million will be injected into adult social care services to help get patients home quicker and free up vital hospital beds.

The poll of foundation doctors, trainees, consultants, and speciality and associate specialist (SAS) doctors was carried out by RCP in November.

RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard said that while more was being done to prepare for winter, the poll showed this was not filtering down to frontline staff.

He added: “We know the Government and NHS are doing much more to plan for winter than they were prior to 2017-18. But these findings show it is still not filtering down to staff on the wards, who need to feel confident that plans are in place to deal with the inevitable increase in demand, so they can get on with the job of providing direct clinical care.

“When we’re concerned that the wheels could fall off any moment, the pressure goes up and morale goes down.”

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “As the Royal College of Physicians notes, extensive planning for winter is well under way and hospitals should be working closely with their frontline staff to prepare.

“Frontline staff getting vaccinated against flu is also important to help reduce the pressure on services over winter.

“It is also vital that councils and hospitals work together to target the extra £240 million social care funding on support to get patients home quickly.”