NHS England’s Medical Director, Sir Bruce Keogh, recently commented that the NHS has seen ‘a good Christmas period’ despite reports of targets being missed, Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments being under pressure and delays in patients being discharged. 

Sir Bruce’s comments followed statistics recently published by NHS England which show that the number of people attending A&E departments is down from last year, with approximately 278,000 attendances per week this year compared to 319,000 per week last year. Fewer hospitals are having to refer patients to other hospitals, as more hospitals than last year can cope without taking this step.  

This winter, the BBC has been analysing how the NHS is coping with the increased pressures it usually faces over the winter period and it suggests that the mild weather to date could have reduced these pressures. Sir Bruce has suggested that planning and hard work may have helped the NHS cope this winter so far but the BBC also cites the fact that NHS bosses are thinking twice before publishing figures about patient numbers. 

However, in spite of Sir Bruce’s positive comments, targets are still not being met and there are recent reports of hospitals not being able to cope with the increased pressure they have experienced in the first few weeks of January. 

The BBC has reported that one of the targets not being met is the failure of the NHS 111 phone service to answer 95% of calls within 60 seconds, the time recommended. Other missed targets include the 62-day target for cancer treatment to start (which has not been met for a year) and the eight minute target for ambulance services to attend serious 999 calls in eight minutes, which has not been achieved since May 2015. 

It has also been suggested that there are problems with hospitals discharging patients who are medically fit to leave hospital. This occurs particularly when patients are vulnerable and require adequate support in the form of community care and nursing to be in place before their discharge. If this is not in place, their discharge is delayed. 

A&E departments in the West of England and Wales are reportedly facing extreme pressures, with hospitals in these areas recently issuing ‘black alerts’, the highest level of alert, as they struggle to cope with the number of patients.

Says Camilla Wonnacott of the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team: “Although Sir Bruce’s positive comments suggest that the NHS performed well over the Christmas period, the next statistics will be published on Friday 15 January 2016 and it will be interesting to see how the first few weeks of January, which hospital staff acknowledge are very busy times of the year, have affected the figures.”