Minister hits back over top Derby medic's overcrowding fears
HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt has hit back at claims by a Derby doctor that death rates are higher than they should be in the NHS because hospitals are too full.
Mr Hunt spoke out after comments yesterday by Dr Andrew Goddard, a consultant gastro-enterologist at the Royal Derby Hospital.
Dr Goddard, speaking in his role as a senior representative of the Royal College of Physicians, which represents hospital doctors, warned that "the system is straining to burst".
He said the number of black alerts – where hospital are so full they can not admit any more patients – was increasing and that this could be why a new report released yesterday by NHS watchdog organisation Dr Foster said some hospitals had a higher-than-expected death rate.
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Reacting to his comments, Mr Hunt said: "The NHS is not overcrowded. On average, there are around 20,000 of its beds available.
"Of course, this goes up and down, but the NHS has practice and experience in managing peaks in demand, particularly in the winter.
"We agree that by community and social care services working better with hospitals, patients can leave hospital more quickly and return home with the support that they need — or even avoid going into hospital altogether."
Alison Fowlie, executive medical director of Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which is responsible for the running of the Royal Derby, said: "Dr Goddard represents the Royal College of Physicians and was highlighting issues that hospitals have reported across the country. There is no doubt that there are increasing pressures on clinical services as patient numbers and emergency admissions continue to rise.
"Here in Derby, we are fortunate that we haven't had to completely close urgent admissions areas. We work really hard to ensure that when services get busier we are ready and have the staff in place with more senior doctors and nurses working in the evenings and at weekends, ensuring patient care comes first.
"We have a strong winter plan in place to manage even the busiest periods and this was proven last year when we successfully opened over 70 additional beds to care for patients in the right specialist areas. This led to Derby having one of the lowest operation cancellation rates in the East Midlands.
"The fact that Dr Foster concludes that Derby Hospitals is within the expected range for most of its care quality measurements highlights the efforts we put into always ensuring we have a plan, particularly in the winter, which aims to put us in the best possible position to provide first-class care for all patients, even in the busiest times."
Dr Goddard, in comments released in a Royal College of Physicians statement, said: "The staggeringly high bed- occupancy rates show that hospitals are at bursting point. This prevents hospitals from being able to deliver non- urgent care – such as hip replacements – and puts staff under increasing pressure as they are constantly firefighting. It is too easy for compassionate care to be lost when doctors and nurses are struggling to cope with their workload."