In an exclusive interview, Dr Mark Holland, President of the Society for Acute Medicine, which meets for its annual conference today, said that hospitals in some areas could be “pushed to the brink” and care could become “unsafe”.
“Last winter we buckled,” he said.
“But there must come a point where we will break and that could well be this winter.
“Across the UK one can imagine small pockets of meltdown in individual hospitals under such severe strain that they would not be able to cope.
“If we get to a situation where the whole system seized up and we have a flu epidemic and problems with staffing then not only would the system become inefficient but it would also become unsafe.”
Consultants in acute medicine provide specialist care for patients admitted to hospital as an emergency.
Dr Holland said specialist acute wards are overflowing because, with vulnerable patients being put up in “outlying” beds on surgical wards where they may not receive the same level of care.
The working conditions are seen as so onerous that just 53% of training positions have been filled this year and in some hospitals consultants are “acting down” to plug gaps for junior doctors.
He said the three five-day strikes planned by the British Medical Association will add to pressures on over-stretched hospitals.
The Society supports the junior doctors in their dispute over a new contract, but accepts that many operations and outpatient appointments could be postponed.
Dr Holland said: “We are in a situation where we are heading into winter and we are going to struggle.
“If we had a strike on top it isn’t going to make our life any easier.”
But he said the Health Secretary was misleading the public in claiming that the controversial new junior doctors’ contract would lead to more seven-day hospital services, a key manifesto commitment.
“I would say to Jeremy Hunt that he should leave the junior doctors alone and not push them to have a contract so he can tell the public that it is going to bring about seven-day services.
“That is absolutely not the case.
“It’s impossible without extra resources. It’s to do with doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, social workers – the whole system.
“Unless you consider the whole system it is not going to work.”
A spokesperson for NHS England said: “It’s no secret that the NHS faces unprecedented pressures, particularly over winter periods, but we know from experience that our frontline staff provide an excellent service to meet these challenges.
“Our latest figures show hospitals are continuing to look after more than nine out of 10 A&E patients within four hours, and more than nine in 10 patients are waiting less than 18 weeks for their routine operations.
“While this is probably the best performance of any western nation, these figures underline the pressures facing the NHS, and the obvious risks to patient care posed by weeks of further drawn out industrial action.”
News Source SkyNews