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New year’s resolutions

NHS England has told under pressure hospitals they can cancel non-urgent elective procedures to free up beds for patients coming through accident and emergency.

In a letter to trusts on Thursday afternoon, medical director Sir Bruce Keogh and national director for urgent and emergency care Dame Pauline Philip said the “expectation is that non-urgent inpatient elective care should be deferred until mid-January to ensure beds and staff are available for the sickest patients. By acting early, trusts can avoid last minute cancellations that can be costly and inconvenient for patients.”

They said day case facilities could be used to provide inpatient care and “routine follow up clinics could be converted into ‘hot clinics’ providing specialist care to patients referred by GPs to take pressure off of A&E units, for example, for respiratory conditions which peak in winter”.

The move was recommended following a meeting of the new national emergency pressures panel, which met on Wednesday and comprises representatives from royal colleges, Public Health England and the CQC.

The panel said it would review the situation by the middle of next month “and make further recommendations on elective activity as needed”.

The latest waiting times data, for October, showed 1,517 patients who have waited more than a year for their appointment.

The data showed there were a further 2,522 patients within three weeks of the 52 week point at which trusts can incur a £5,000 from commissioners.

In his latest Performance Watch expert briefing, James Illman gives a rundown of how well preparations for winter have gone so far.

He says: ”The atmosphere at the top of the shop in NHS England was “tense” this week (as one might expect), according to one well placed source, “but not one of panic” (yet).

“The source admitted the system’s fortunes were largely in the lap of the gods – made material via extremely cold weather, virulent flu and/or norovirus – but that there was a genuine belief that the planning process has been thorough and no stones have been left unturned.”