Beds crisis forces ban on routine operations

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS of patients on waiting lists are facing new delays for hospital treatment as enforced bans on routine surgery spread across Britain.

The Emergency Bed Service, which helps doctors to admit the most urgent cases, warned yesterday that restrictions on surgery at hospitals throughout north-east London and west Essex will be maintained into a second week.

Hospitals in the region were put on 'yellow warning' by the EBS on 8 January for the first time in three years, in response to a sharp increase in emergency admissions. The alert requires hospitals to cut elective surgery, speed up the discharge of patients and put men and women in the same wards.

Sandra Mead, the EBS operations manager, said that in contrast with the winter hospital alerts of three years ago, when many areas were hit by a flu epidemic, there appeared to be no single or clear explanation for the current crisis.

'We would be very reluctant to move to a red warning, making the affected hospitals emergency-only institutions,' she said. 'That would affect cancer patients. Certainly, we are not in a position to lift the yellow warning at present.'

Hospitals in the North East Thames health region were taking emergencies only for three weeks in the winter of 1989-90.

The British Medical Association is undertaking a survey of reductions in services following anecdotal evidence of a slowdown of hospital activity. Many hospitals have admitted that they may be unable to reopen closed beds until April when funds for 1993-94 service contracts become available.

At the Royal Hampshire Hospital in Winchester operating lists have been cut by 50 per cent and beds are lying empty. Both the Royal United Hospital in Bath, and the Northern General in Sheffield have been treating emergencies only for several days this month.

More than 230,000 people were forced to look for a new NHS dentist or seek private treatment between July and November last year, according to a Labour Party survey published today.

The research revealed a sharp rise in de-registrations by dentists from family health service authorities, following a 7 per cent cut in dentists' fees imposed by the Government last spring.

The Department of Health is expected next week to publish the findings of a far-reaching inquiry by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield into the remuneration of dentists.

The Labour survey found that 99 per cent of dentists in Huntingdon, John Major's constituency, had stopped taking on new fee-paying adult patients.

Similarly high rates of refusal were recorded in Staffordshire (95 per cent), West Sussex (93 per cent) and Cumbria (56 per cent). In Surrey, part of which is represented in Parliament by Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, 14,000 patients had had to look for a new NHS dentist.

Ian McCartney, Labour's spokesman on dentistry, said: 'The crisis engulfing NHS dentistry is threatening to end the principle of a comprehensive dental service within the NHS.'

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