• NHS England chief says February was likely the most “pressured” month in NHS history
  • Thanks NHS staff for efforts in current weather
  • Says dropping the accountable care organisation contract would probably lead to more tenders for NHS services 

February was probably the “most pressurised month the NHS has seen in its nearly 70 year history”, Simon Stevens has said, as the service continues to grapple with winter.

The NHS England chief executive said: “Right now we’ve got 5,000 of our 100,000 or so hospital beds occupied by patients with flu and norovirus… that’s the equivalent of having 10 acute hospitals out of action.

“It is quite likely February will turn out to have been the most pressurised month the NHS has seen in its nearly 70 year history.”

In January 85.3 per cent of patients were seen within four hours in all accident and emergency departments, and in December the figure was 85.1 per cent - equalling the lowest figure since recording began. At type one departments, January performance was 77.1 per cent and December was 77.3 per cent.

Speaking at the Nuffield Trust health policy summit in Surrey today, Mr Stevens thanked NHS staff for efforts in the snow and extreme cold in recent days, and the army which has transported some NHS staff to work. Many have gone to great lengths to travel to work and others have slept at hospitals.

He said: “Once again the NHS is showing that we are there for people when they need us, and that is all down to our staff, so a huge thank you to everybody across the NHS who is going the extra mile.”

Mr Stevens also talked about the prospect of NHS England’s accountable care organisation contract, which is the subject of two judicial review cases, being ruled against in court.

He said: “Our view is it is possible to fund primary care, community health and hospital services in a combined way, in a way that is consistent with the statutory legal framework. That’s the point that’s being tested in the principle judicial review… If the courts say it is lawful, that clears that issue up once and for all, and if the courts say it isn’t, that’s obviously not an approach we will be doing.

“What we will be doing instead is the bulk of what the integration agenda looks like, which is the voluntary coming together of organisations… in integrated care systems. So I think this will bring welcome clarity in some senses to a discussion which has got aspects of scotch mist.”

Mr Stevens indicated that stopping the ACO contract would lead to more tendering of services rather than less in the areas which are currently seeking to use it.

He said: “If those parts of the country are not able to do these kind of combined funding arrangements, they are likely to see more procurements of components of community health services under the current framework, than if they were able to act differently in the way that they are proposing… That’s just a function of the current statutory framework.”