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NHS under strain as ‘Beast from the East’ reaches UK

NHS under strain as ‘Beast from the East’ reaches UK

A cold snap has heaped extra pressure on NHS services

The cold snap currently engulfing the UK is a cause for ‘great concern’ for already struggling NHS emergency departments, leading doctors have warned.  

The Met Office said yesterday (25 February) that some parts of England and Wales will experience the ‘coldest spells of weather since at least 2013 – perhaps 1991’ as the polar vortex nicknamed the ‘Beast from the East’ hits the country.

The plummeting temperatures are expected to lead to a rise in emergency hospital admissions aspatients with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions are affected by the cold weather, the Society for Acute Medicine said today (26 February).  

Last week, the NHS weekly winter operation update highlighted an increase in bed occupancy rates due to norovirus or diarrhoea and vomiting – up to 841 bed occupancies per day, compared with 817 the previous week.

‘Struggling’ ACUs

President of the Society for Acute Medicine Dr Nick Scriven said: ‘Daily temperatures below the normal ambient level increase illness and hospital admission rates for cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, particularly among those aged 65 and over.

'The onset of a spell of extremely cold weather is of great concern for acute medical units, who are already struggling with the widely reported stresses of this winter.’

The way winter preparations were handled in the NHS showed ‘little understanding of how unmanageable things have become’, he added.

NHS ‘surviving on goodwill’

An NHS Improvement quarter 3 (2017/18) report published last week shed light on the state of the NHS, which it found has to deliver effective care to patients with a limited funding and a workforce gap of 100,000.

Dr Scriven said: ’So far this winter we have seen the NHS survive on the goodwill and effort of hard-pressed staff of all levels who have gone the extra mile to ensure safe and high quality treatment in the most difficult of circumstances.

‘However, the challenges keep increasing and this week is another example of how the authorities simply cannot gamble on hard-working staff saving the day – it is not sustainable or fair and will be the downfall of our health service.’

‘A challenge to all of us’

The plummeting temperatures have encouraged Public Health England to issue more reminders to patients to look after themselves.

Dr Thomas Waite of PHE’s Extreme Events team said: ‘Cold temperatures inside and out can make you ill and can even kill. Prolonged cold weather like this can be a challenge to all of us; remember that staying warm helps keep you healthy.'

Commenting on the new weather alert, director of Nursing and Quality at The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust David Melia said: ‘We need the help of the public during this cold spell and are asking everyone to remember that emergency departments are for emergencies.

‘Walk-in centres, GP surgeries and pharmacies are the most appropriate place for conditions that are urgent but not emergencies.

‘It’s really important that people choose the right place to go so that we can ensure the Emergency Department staff are able to focus on treating patients with life threatening conditions such as strokes and heart attacks as well as other emergencies such as broken hips, and severe infections.’


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