NHS demand soars as surgery delayed

No fewer than 14 ambulances outside Wigan Infirmary on a day of emergency service chaos
No fewer than 14 ambulances outside Wigan Infirmary on a day of emergency service chaos

Hundreds of Wiganers could have operations postponed after the borough’s hospital chief executive said the service had been busier than ever.

Andrew Foster said Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust had faced unprecedented demand over the festive period with long waits for people to see medical staff.

He also suggested the situation for the Trust is expected to remain difficult for more than a month.

Mr Foster said planning for next winter has to begin now as there were major concerns around seeing any repeat of the recent scenes in the borough’s hospitals.

In an attempt to ease the pressures on struggling Trusts NHS England has issued a directive to postpone non-urgent operations until January 31.

Mr Foster expressed sympathy to patients and members of the wider community who may have had operations cancelled or postponed due to the demand on the NHS but stressed the sickest patients will be prioritised. He also said all day case procedures and all surgeries at Wrightington will continue as normal.

He said: “There have been times in the last week when it has been busier that I have ever seen it before with people queuing in the corridors and waiting to be assessed, so it has been an exceptionally busy winter period.

“Based on previous years it will carry on like this for another four to six weeks and then it will ease off - but when it comes to next winter we are going to need to put even more resources into place to ensure patient safety.

“I apologise to patients for the unusually long waits they have experienced.”

Mr Foster added: “WWL is reviewing existing scheduled appointments and operations and will contact patients

directly if their appointment is to be rescheduled. If you have not been contacted, then please attend your appointments as arranged.

NHS England has already acted to try to free up hospital staff and beds by deferring surgery such as hip replacements, routine outpatient appointments and non-urgent care until the end of the month.

It is estimated that could mean up to 55,000 operations being deferred across England, although cancer operations and time-critical procedures should go ahead as planned. Hospitals will also temporarily be able to accommodate men and women in the same wards without being fined, NHS England has decided.

The meeting which led to the directives being issued heard high levels of respiratory illness, high bed occupancy levels, signs of increased flu activity and a rise in the number of severe cases attending A&E had all led to the NHS struggling to cope.

Across the country the NHS has struggled with demand, with hospitals reporting themselves at the most severe pressure levels and doctors warning of operating at full capacity. Ambulance bosses described the festive period as one of its busiest ever, with almost 5,500 emergency calls answered by December 27.