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Hospitals ‘coping better’ this winter but ‘toughest days may well come later’

NHS England claims the improvements are of a direct result of good planning and hard work by staff. 



Emergency department waiting room

Official figures show that hospitals are coping better with fewer A&E closures and ambulance delays.

Figures from NHS England suggest that hospitals are coping better, there were fewer A&E closures and ambulance delays than the same period last year – levels of influenza and Norovirus also remain low.

NHS England claims the improvements are of a direct result of good planning and hard work by staff.


An NHS England spokesperson said: “Thanks to the hard work and preparation of NHS staff, the health service is performing better this winter than last.”

The NHS Confederation has warned that although the figures are promising the ‘toughest days may well come later’.

The ‘toughest days may well come later’.

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS has delivered significant improvements on last year’s performance and that’s welcome news for patients and the public. But the NHS is not yet in the clear as the toughest days often come later in the winter when severe cold weather, flu and norovirus can strike.

“We have yet to experience the same pressure as last year but it’s clear the NHS is in better shape this winter to respond. This is a tribute to the hard work of staff and the robust planning that has gone into preparing front-line services for this winter.

“Ambulance delays and bed occupancy rates are both down, while we have seen far fewer A&Es diverting patients. This is very encouraging but our members tell us that the toughest days may well come later in the winter so they will be prepared for this.”

The Royal College of Nursing has warned that seeing so much overcrowding in Accident and Emergency Department is a poor sign of things to come.

‘Very worrying’.

Stephanie Aiken, Royal College of Nursing Deputy Director of Nursing, said: “Today’s figures confirm that almost 10 per cent of patients taken to hospital by ambulance in December were stuck outside A&E for longer than the 30 minute target. Having to wait outside in an ambulance in this way because A&E is already dangerously overcrowded is distressing not just for patients but also for staff, who can’t provide proper care. 

“In addition, although bed occupancy rates were low on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when patients understandably wanted to be at home with their families, they were higher than the 85% limit regarded safe by experts on every other day of the last two weeks.

“It’s very worrying that we’re seeing so much overcrowding in A&E departments and wards before cold weather has hit in earnest, and while flu and norovirus levels are still relatively low. The forthcoming Long Term Plan for the NHS must ensure sufficient funding to make winter overcrowding a thing of the past”.

Last year the NHS experienced blanket cancellations to non-urgent operations to help ease the burden on A&Es, and patients were reportedly queueing in corridors in large numbers.


One in six nursing associates drop out before qualifying, finds report

Despite this trainees showed “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”.



Group of nurses in meeting

Only 65% of trainee nursing associates said they planned to work as a nursing associate once qualified.

An independent evaluation of the nursing associate role commissioned by Health Education England (HEE) has found that while there are “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”, one in six nursing associates are dropping out before completing the course.

Attrition rates for trainee nursing associates fell slightly below that of student nurses, with 18% leaving before completing the course.


While ill health and personal issues were some of the most common reasons for leaving the programme, nearly a quarter (23%) withdrew because they failed to meet the academic requirements of the programme – with numeracy skills cited as a key issue.

One trainee said they found the “attitudes towards the role and the negative feedback about Nursing Associates” challenging.

Only 65% of trainees said they intend to continue working as a nursing associate once qualified as the programme is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming a registered nursing.

Highlighting challenges.

Mark Radford, Chief Nursing Officer, Health Education England said the report “highlights some challenges that we must address to ensure that students such as ensuring the quality and oversight of placements, attrition and numeracy support.”

“We also recognise that further work and research is required to ensure that the profession is supported and utilised in the workforce of health and social care as part of the MDT. I am pleased to be able to report that we are in the process of identifying candidates to be considered as NA ambassadors across England.

Commenting on the report, Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive and Registrar for the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said; “Having had the pleasure of meeting many nursing associates across the country, I am continually inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication for providing care and they should be very proud of the difference they make for the people they support.”

“I look forward to seeing how nursing associates continue to develop and be supported in their work, long into the future.”

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UCAS accused of having an ‘outdated’ view on nurses

They describe the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured.



Student Nurse Lecture Theatre

UCAS describes nurses as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has been accused of having an “outdated” view on nurses after it described the profession as providing “support to doctors and other medical staff”.

UCAS describes the nursing role to prospective students as looking after people when they are sick or injured. Adding; “You’ll provide support to doctors and other medical staff, take blood and urine samples, and in some cases, you may carry out minor surgical procedures.”


Nurses, alongside a multitude of other healthcare professionals, have taken to social media calling for the description to be amended so it “adequately reflects nursing in the 21st century”. They also criticised the article for failing to highlight a large number of health promotion and research roles frequently undertaken by the profession.

BJ Walto, a senior member of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) commented that the description is “inaccurate, demeaning and totally misleading portrayal of nursing.”

Tom Wavlin, a Lecturer in Adult Nursing & Admissions Tutor at the University of Plymouth, suggested the description could instead read; “an autonomous practitioner of nursing who works closely with other healthcare professionals”.

In comparison, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) website reads; “Registered nurses play a vital role in providing, leading and coordinating care that is compassionate, evidence-based, and person-centred. They are accountable for their own actions and must be able to work autonomously, or as an equal partner with a range of other professionals, and in interdisciplinary teams.”

A spokesperson for UCAS said; “It’s clear that our current role profile for nurses doesn’t reflect the amazing work that nurses across the country do each day, and we welcome the feedback we’ve recently received.

“We want to make sure that students considering their future options have up-to date information about all different careers available to them.

“We’re currently updating all of our job profiles and are in touch with nursing experts to help us make sure that we better reflect the roles and responsibilities of nurses today.”

UPDATE (17/10/19 09:55): This article was updated to include a comment from UCAS.

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