NHS in Crisis: National View - Flu exposes chronic staff shortages
Wednesday 06 January 1999
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.
Malaysia Airlines plane crash exposes alarming flaw in airline security: over one billion flights made last year without stolen-passport check
International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
Teacher shows sex tape featuring herself to pupils during class by mistake
Swarm of killer bees sting woman 1,000 times
Dead woman's body found sitting in a car after six years after direct debits ran $54,000 bank account dry
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
- 1 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 2 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 3 Singapore sting: Sky-high prices are pushing locals to the edge of affordability
- 4 Russia has made 'big miscalculation' over Ukraine warns Hague
- 5 Swarm of killer bees sting woman 1,000 times
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: A small but growing chain of boutique hot...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ba...
£45 - 60k Per Annum: Charter Selection: Highly profitable leisure brand, marke...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residenti...