NHS orders hospitals to suspend all non-urgent care

The NHS has ordered hospitals to suspend all non-urgent operations and routine outpatient appointments until February.

NHS England has taken the drastic steps of ordering hospitals in England to suspend all non-urgent activities as hospitals struggle to cope with the unprecedented demand for services since Christmas. Officials estimate that this could lead to 55,000 deferred operations.

However, cancer operations and time-critical procedures should go ahead as planned and should not be canceled unless absolutely necessary.

NHS England has also given hospitals the green light to put patients in mixed sex wards.

Dr Richard Fawcett, a Consultant of Emergency Medicine in Stoke on Trent, apologised to his patients for the “third world conditions”.

Nursing and Medical are also though to be contributing to the crisis as hospitals struggle to fill staffing gaps.

The National Emergency Pressures Panel (NEPP) met for the second time and activated the new NHS winter pressures protocols;

  • Extending the deferral of all non-urgent inpatient elective care to free up capacity for our sickest patients to January 31. The panel reiterated that cancer operations and time-critical procedures should go ahead as planned.
  • Over and above this, day-case procedures and routine outpatient appointments should also be deferred where this will release clinical time for non-elective care.
  • The clinical time released from the above actions should be re-prioritised to:
    • Implement consultant triage at the front-door so patients are seen by a senior decision maker on arrival at the Emergency Department.
    • Ensure consultant availability for phone advice for GPs.
    • Maximise the usage of ambulatory care and hot clinic appointments as an alternative to Emergency Department attendance and/or hospital admissions.
    • Increasing support from Allied Health Professionals, for example physios and therapists, for rehabilitation and discharge.
    • Staff additional inpatient beds.
    • Ensure twice daily review of all patients to facilitate discharge.
  • To ensure patient safety comes first CCGs should temporarily suspend sanctions for mixed sex accommodation breaches.
  • Whilst overall the NHS is doing better than ever before in vaccinating health care workers there is significant variation between organisations. There should be an immediate prioritisation of vaccination of all frontline staff.

Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of NHS England, said;

“I want to thank NHS staff who have worked incredibly hard under sustained pressure to take care of patients over the Christmas. We expect these pressures to continue and there are early signs of increased flu prevalence. The NHS needs to take further action to increase capacity and minimise disruptive last-minute cancellations. That is why we are making these further recommendations today.”

In November the Royal College of Nursing warned the government that healthcare staff and NHS were nearing breaking point.