Plans made to short measure

The familiar winter pressures bring cancelled operations which have become regular features of hospital life. The good British public accept them with customary stoicism, carrying their share of the burden by waiting longer. But such cancellations are costing us dearly, not only through the inconvenience of delayed treatment but through the waste of resources not being used effectively.

When operations are cancelled because the beds on the surgical wards are taken by patients with pneumonia the surgeons and their specialist teams are idle, operating theatres and recovery areas are empty but not closed and these resources do have to be paid for.

We now hear of hospitals and CCGs stopping elective (non-urgent) operations, in one case until April to ‘save money’ but what do they save?

The CCGs who pay the hospitals to do the operations save the cost of the operation but they still have to pay for the hospital to treat the patient with pneumonia.

The hospital still have to pay the surgeon and the team standing idle and the CCG are simply moving the cost of the delayed operation onto the next month or financial year’s budget. The hospital admin staff have extra work to do in rescheduling the operations and this adds to the extra costs.

This demonstrates the problems of underfunding which do not show up on the balance sheet.

If there were sufficient beds for the predictable rise in winter admissions these dysfunctional and costly cancellations would be avoided.

The simple truth on beds is that numbers of overnight beds in England (according to NHS England) has fallen from around 145,000 in 2010-11 to around 130,000 in 2015-16.

And the bed numbers were reduced because ‘more care will be provided in the community’. However that will not be possible unless it is funded and the King’s Fund have made it clear that this  cannot happen on current funding levels.

Dr Eric Watts
Chair, Doctors for the NHS

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