Patients `harmed' by cash rationing

Health crisis: As hospitals struggle to cope, doctors claim patients have died because of delays in treatment
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A SURVEY of doctors has revealed widespread concern that National Health Service budget rationing is harming patients, just as fresh statistics indicate that the shortfall in nurses is nearly double what managers previously thought.

One in five doctors responding to the survey have seen patients who have suffered from rationing, while one in twenty reported that patients had died as a result of delayed or denied treatment.

The statistics were revealed in a survey of nearly 3,000 hospital doctors and GPs by Doctor magazine.

Phil Johnson, the editor of Doctor, said: "Like a child hiding under the bed covers, the Government imagines the problems of rationing is a monster that will go away if it refuses to acknowledge it.

"Ministers must realise it is not about apportioning blame. It is about being mature to concede that the NHS is not equipped to cope with demand and courageous enough to lay it on the line for the public."

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing is expected to release new figures today based on a survey of NHS trusts, which show a shortage of between 12,000 and 13,000 full-time nurses, compared with the previous estimate of 8,000.

The RCN figures will add further weight to their contention that nurses should receive their pay award in full this year rather than having to wait for it to be phased in over three years.

In an attempt to make hospital managers more accountable, Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, is to create a new commission for improving health standards. At present, NHS trust managers are merely required to balance the books. But the new commission would also expect managers to ensure high standards of care.

Mr Dobson is likely to face tough criticism over the handling of the influenza outbreak as MPs return to the Commons today. He admitted last week that the flu outbreak had provoked a "crisis" in the NHS and hospitals were continuing to struggle as the weather turned cold again yesterday.

The Midlands remained the worst affected, with nearly 300 sufferers per 100,000 head of population. But the outbreak will not be deemed an epidemic unless the figure reaches 400 per 100,000.

Many GP practices opened their surgeries for extra hours on Saturday and began drafting in extra staff to cope with the rising flu figures. Hospital nurses in some areas were cancelling their leave in order to ease the pressure on fellow staff.

A spokeswoman from the Association for Influenza Monitoring and Surveillance said: "We won't know the actual figures until early next week, but the outbreak is expected to peak over the next couple of days.

"We know that some GPs that don't normally have Saturday surgery are realising the need to open rather than just be on call because of the outbreak and hospitals are obviously aware of the situation."

Although the Midlands area has seen the worst of the outbreak, virologists reported last week that it was spreading southwards. Health experts said the cold weather gripping London and the South-east was adding to problems.

Hospitals in Newcastle and Manchester confirmed that he pressure had eased on them in the past couple of days. But in Oxford, a spokesman for the John Radcliffe hospital said: "We are under a lot of pressure... we are having to cancel routine operations."