Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, yesterday admitted that the crisis over hospital beds was a "matter for concern" as the British Medical Association demanded urgent government action to help a system at "breaking point".
The doctors' demand came amid growing evidence of hospitals around Britain having to take action to curb admissions. The BMA found examples of hospitals cancelling non- emergency operations and closing accident and emergency facilities. Separate research yesterday by the Independent revealed that the problem was affecting hospitals nationwide.
GPs are spending hours on the telephone trying to place dangerously ill patients in hospitals, while accident and emergency departments are running at capacity, the BMA said.
A Welsh GP was told earlier this week that there were no acute beds in the whole of South Wales for a patient in need of immediate treatment, according to the association. One London hospital recently ran out of trolleys for patients in its A&E department for whom no beds could be found. Another consultant said that patients in A&E were being accommodated on the floor.
Dr Sandy Macara, chairman of the BMA, said: "There is a cocktail of problems and it is a potentially lethal cocktail." He blamed the "wretched internal market" in the National Health Service which did not channel money where it was needed - to increase acute beds and staff - and "bed blocking" by elderly people because of the failure of community care.
A range of measures to counteract a staffing crisis in casualty departments, with nurses allowed to do more medical treatments, was announced by the Department of Health earlier this week.
However, the BMA's report - and accusation that government health reforms are responsible - puts ministers under renewed pressure.
Emergency admissions have been at record levels for sometime - increasing by 13 per cent between1989/90 and 1993/94 - but the onset of the flu season, the meningitis scare, and the rise in fractures because of the cold weather have brought matters to a head.
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