Health spokesperson David Willets says it isn’t a crisis – just a bit uncomfortable for patients who have had operations cancelled!
“A crisis is when you haven’t got in place mitigations and you haven’t got a plan to deal with it. We’ve gone into this winter in a way that we’ve never prepared before, so we went into the winter before Christmas having cancelled fewer elective operations than we had previously, discharges from hospital were at a lower level than they had been previously, so we were better prepared.
We’ve also set up a national, regional and local structure – if you like, a winter pressures protocol – which we are invoking now and we are monitoring a whole series of things, activity in the service and the pressures.
We are monitoring the weather alerts in anticipation of weather changes because we know that’s important, and we also monitor the seasonal illnesses like flu.
Asked if what was happening would feel like a crisis to patients, he replied:
I fully accept that for the individual that will be really very uncomfortable, but what we know is if we don’t have a plan in place and we don’t do this in a structured way, what will happen, as we’ve had in previous winters, is lots of last-minute cancellations which is really distracting for patients, it’s inconvenient, it upsets the plans they’ve put together with their family, particularly for elderly patients where their care needs are often quite significant.
He said it was possible that further delays to non-urgent operations could be announced. Asked if there could be further postponements, he said:
That’s certainly a possibility … Intention always is not to cancel patients or postpone patients more than once – that’s one of the principles we try to follow – but clearly it is unpredictable, we don’t know what the weather we do, we don’t know the pressures in the system, we’re taking precautionary action here. …”