Accident and emergency departments face 'perfect storm'
A "perfect storm" of appalling weather, persistently high hospital admissions due to flu and a renewed spike in norovirus put accident and emergency departments under considerable pressure last week, with the prolonged cold conditions set to put them under even more strain.
NHS England warned that the current bout of freezing weather could increase health risks for vulnerable patients such as the very young, very old or those with chronic diseases.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the severe weather is an "added burden on top of the recent 'usual' winter" and hospitals are likely to be forced to cancel routine procedures.
He added: "Today and the next few days will particularly stretch trusts, with staff struggling to get to work and ambulance trusts having immense problems getting patients to and from hospital.
"A lot of hospitals will cancel routine work over the next few days as a consequence of both of these. Overall NHS staff are pulling together and making immense efforts to keep people our hospitals safe."
The latest data shows more than 12,300 patients had to wait longer than 30 minutes to be seen after arriving at A&E units in ambulances last week, with more than 2,870 patients having to wait more than an hour, both down on the week before.
There were 13 cases of ambulances being diverted away from A&E departments last week, while the number of bed closures due to norovirus, or diarrhoea and vomiting, rose from an average of 841 beds to 949 beds closed per day.
An NHS England spokesman said: "Dedicated NHS staff continue to work hard in the face of a 'perfect storm' of appalling weather, persistently high flu hospitalisations and a renewed spike in norovirus.
"With the severe conditions expected to continue, we ask patients and their families to bear with us as we seek to minimise any disruption."
The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) show there were 20 flu-related deaths reported in the week ending February 11, with 150 new confirmed cases reported in intensive care or high dependency units.
There have been 271 confirmed flu-related deaths so far this winter.
Dr Scriven added: "The latest weekly performance figures provide stark reading, with 18,000 patients in hospital for more than 21 days and bed occupancy still at 95%.
"The National Emergency Pressures Panel met this week and issued a thank you and acknowledged worst winter ever with weeks more to go but no real practical help.
"There have been no words from the Secretary of State regarding the NHS going the extra mile in this weather, yet we find ourselves in the midst of extreme conditions which have piled the pressure on our already-stretched hospitals.
"This week really has shown the passion, dedication, commitment and care of staff in our acute medical units and throughout hospitals in the most testing of conditions."