Hospitals told to cancel operations to deal with post-Christmas pressures

PUBLISHED: 19:00 22 December 2017 | UPDATED: 19:00 22 December 2017

Surgeons in an operating theatre. 
Photo: Bill Smith

Surgeons in an operating theatre. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2004

Hospitals have been told to cancel non-emergency operations in the new year to prepare for a post-Christmas surge in demand.

Richard Parker, chief operating officer at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Photo: NNUHRichard Parker, chief operating officer at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Photo: NNUH

The unprecedented edict came from an emergency panel of NHS bosses, who hope it will give hardworking staff room to breathe over the period, which traditionally is the busiest time of the year for the health service.

Winter illnesses, combined with the growing demand at accident and emergency departments, put on extra pressure during the winter months.

NHS England also told trusts already experiencing “high levels of operational pressure” this winter to convert clinics and areas usually used for day-case surgery into overflow areas with beds to reduce the risk of running out of space to accommodate patients.

Although hospitals in Norfolk are yet to put off any procedures, such as knee replacements or cataract surgery, chiefs said they have got plans in place to deal with the extra workload.

Kevin Brown, EEAST. Photo: EEASTKevin Brown, EEAST. Photo: EEAST

Chief operating officer at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), Richard Parker, said: “Every year, the elective surgery programme naturally curtails over the Christmas break. When the programme starts up again in January, we take decisions on a day-by-day basis to manage the demand for our services. Patients needing emergency surgery or operations for cancer are always prioritised. We are not cancelling any elective surgery at present.

“As a trust, our approach is to have year-round resilience and throughout the year we have been working to improve efficiencies, reduce delays and place downward pressure on emergency admissions by developing enhanced ambulatory facilities. We have effective plans in place to manage peaks in demand throughout the year and with winter approaching our teams are working hard to ensure that excellent patient care is maintained.”

At the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston a number of escalation beds can be used at times of high demand. And a spokesman said there were no plans to convert other paces into overflow areas.

He added: “Operationally it has been very busy, particularly since the beginning of December.”

And the hospital had repeatedly issued messages asking patients to only attend A&E in a genuine emergency.

A spokesman for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn added: “We have long established winter plans in which we always manage planned activity at this time of year as we know the beginning of January is very pressured. We therefore currently do not have the need to cancel any operations.”

The region’s ambulance trust also urged patients to use the 999 service wisely this winter.

Last December, the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) received 102,238 emergency calls - an increase of 13pc from the previous year.

That included 15,377 in Norfolk (up from 14,074 in 2015), 12,096 in Suffolk (10,936 in 2015), and 13,892 in Cambridgeshire (12,485 in 2015).

Kevin Brown, director of service delivery for EEAST, said: “This is an extremely busy time of the year for us and all of our staff are working hard to do their best for patients.

“Calling 999 is for a real emergency and should be a last resort. However, many people are calling us when they should be asking for help and medical advice from their pharmacy, walk-in centre, GP, NHS 111 or from NHS Choices website. Where an A&E visit is necessary but not life threatening or essential, consider other alternatives to an ambulance.

“This time of year we experience an increase in alcohol-related call-outs, which adds extra pressure on the service. If you are going to celebrate the Christmas holidays, please drink responsibly, look out for your friends, and plan your journey home in advance. Don’t let your night end up in the back of an ambulance.”

The trust has also issued a video on how to make sure ambulance crews get to the right place in the dark.

Tips include:

• Make sure the house number is large enough and in a place where it can be seen from the road

• If possible, place the house name or number on a wall or gate post next to the road as well as on the door

• Cut back foliage regularly so the front of the property can be seen

• Ensure the number or name stands out – black on white or vice versa is best

• When waiting for a response, leave hazard lights on a car parked in the drive or on the road, and switch on any outside lights on the property

• Obtain your home’s map grid reference and have it handy in case of emergency

Karl Edwards, deputy director of service delivery, said: “Often not having a clearly visible house number or failing to give information about a potentially difficult-to-find address could mean the difference between life and death. Every minute saved is vital to a patient’s chances of survival but unfortunately crucial seconds or minutes can be lost driving up and down long roads looking for properties.

“With winter’s more limited daylight hours, it is even more important people make their properties easily identifiable from the road - many have their names and numbers concealed by trees or overgrown hedges, are too small to see or, worse still, have no signage at all.”

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