Winter is a busy time of the year for the NHS, with many more people becoming ill with viruses, injuring themselves with falls, and vulnerable patients not being able to handle the colder weather.
This year, GPs have even lost their faith that the NHS can cope with the increase in demand during the winter months, with 94 per cent believing the health service will struggle this year.
According to the GPonline opinion poll, 92 per cent also thought patients would be put at risk as a result.
GP partners were even more worried, with 96 per cent feeling as though the NHS would not being able to cope and the same amount worried about the welfare of patients. They cited staff shortages, growing patient demand, and difficulty recruiting GPs as reasons for this pressure on the NHS.
Speaking with the publication, one GP said: “We are actively ensuring eligible patients have their flu vaccine, doing extra home visits to complete this. However, demand is already high and those who shout the loudest get seen rather than those with the greatest need.”
According to figures from the British Medical Association (BMA), attendances to Accident & Emergency reached 6.2 million last winter, increasing by six per cent on the year before. It reported that one in four patients waited over four hours, while 1,465 endured delays of more than 12 hours.
In addition to this, 678 urgent operations were cancelled in January and February, while there were 127,300 delayed days in February alone.
Another GP said the government should be doing more to support medical staff, with patients still having to wait long hours and appointments getting booked up before 09:00.
They commented: “Nothing changes, nobody learns from the previous year. Many [clinicians] are doing overtime, going that extra mile as [an act of] good will every year even though it is unsafe.”
The figures from the BMA revealed 93.5 per cent of beds were occupied last winter, with nearly all (96 per cent) of the NHS trusts exceeding recommended occupancy levels.
Even before the winter crisis has begun, The Guardian reported that the number of available hospital beds is at the lowest level on record. It revealed there are just 127,225 beds in total, with 17,230 being removed since 2010.
Speaking to the publication, president of the Society for Acute Medicine Dr Sue Crosland said: “Bed reduction and fast turnover is a major risk to patients across the NHS, with hospital-acquired infection rates increased by over-occupancy and quick turnarounds.”
She added that when beds are full, this results in a reduction of care, leading to more emergency readmissions in the long-run.
To help reduce the pressure on medical staff, the NHS has issued advice to the public to help them stay well during the colder months. This includes getting a flu jab, particularly those who are older than 65, are pregnant or have a long-term health condition; keeping the house warm; having at least one hot meal a day and plenty of hot drinks; checking in on vulnerable neighbours and relatives; and making sure the heating system is working properly.
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