NHS in Crisis: National View - Flu exposes chronic staff shortages

THE PRESSURE exerted on the NHS by the flu outbreak is being caused by problems dating back years, health managers said yesterday.

The real crisis is a staff shortage, caused by an erosion in pay and compounded by fewer beds. Sydney and Peking flu have only served to bring the crisis to the public's attention.

Britain is far from a flu epidemic. Stephen Thornton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, representing health authorities and trusts, said they faced the problem of flu most years. The unique factor now was the staff shortage.

There is an estimated 8,000 shortfall of nurses, and a lack of paramedics, physiotherapists and speech therapists. "I can't remember a time in the last few years when it has been so difficult right across the country. That is the special ingredient," he said. "The Government has given us extra money, but in some parts of the country we can't spend it. We just can't recruit the staff."

Kingston Hospital, in Kingston upon Thames, is one of many to have looked abroad. The first of nearly 50 nurses from the Philippines started work there this week.

Britain is not producing enough nurses: last year the number of trainee places exceeded applicants. And there is a difficulty dating from the early Nineties, when the number of training places was halved in a recession.

A spokesman for New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, said: "Staff have been working double shifts, 16 hours at a time, throughout the Christmas and New Year period."

Many nurses have left the profession because they can earn more elsewhere. "Nurses tell us that fair pay is the number-one factor which would encourage them to stay in nursing," said Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.

Bed occupancy rates are another factor in the crisis. Mr Thornton said: "Hospitals have been working increasingly to full capacity all year round. There is nothing more inefficient than an empty bed, and occupancy rates are running at 90 per cent plus. But then you don't need very much of an increase in demand to create real problems."

Philip Monk, a public health consultant in Leicestershire health authority, said there was a "very high level of consultation on influenza-like illnesses". Some really were flu, others were respiratory syncitial virus, which, may make asthma worse and raise temperatures.

A third factor was the peaking of the regular four-yearly cycle in the incidence of mycoplasma, a bug that causes chest infections. "A lot of people are very acutely ill," he said. "There are a phenomenal number of people calling for the GP, which means GPs are taking longer to get to them and people are going down to hospital, which isn't helping the situation. People are trying to find a short cut ... when there are no short cuts to be had."

Douglas Fleming, of the infectious diseases monitoring unit at the Royal College of General Practitioners, said most calls were unnecessary, and accused the many "worried well" of selfishness.

Hugh Lamont, spokesman for the North West Region Ambulance Services, covering Manchester and Liverpool, said: "The system was overrun. The next stage for people was to dial 999 and call an ambulance. The hospitals were acting as clearing houses for primary care and also dealing with the more serious cases." At Walsall Manor Hospital, in the West Midlands, 278 emergency admissions were treated over four days last week, an increase of 100 on the same week in the previous year.

All non-urgent operations in the Sandwell Health Authority area of the Black Country have been cancelled because of the outbreak. It has spread across the West Midlands: at a Wolverhampton hospital, 100 people waiting for treatment were put on stand-by as doctors struggled to cope with demand from flu sufferers. In south Wales, hospitals were under growing pressure. The only part of Britain to have escaped is the South-west. Scotland has been relatively mildly affected.

n A pounds 1m national advertising campaign was launched yesterday to recruit blood donors. The hard-hitting adverts are in response to recent statistics, which showed that less than 6 per cent of the eligible population gives blood.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

English teachers required in Lowestoft

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits