Hospitals in crisis

Hundreds of people are dying because London hospitals are failing to meet recommended standards.

An NHS London review revealed that there are around 25,000 deaths following emergency admissions to London’s hospitals each year and that if the weekend mortality rate matched the weekday mortality rate, 520 of these deaths could be avoided.

The higher rate has been attributed to a lower number of senior medical staff being present at weekends. 

Hospitals are also failing to meet recommended guidelines such as access to diagnostic facilities, consultants and modern surgical techniques, all of which are variable across London.

The review concludes: “services in London are not consistently delivering the safe and high quality emergency care that patients expect.”

A South West London NHS (SWLNHS) report revealed that four local hospitals, Kingston, St George’s, Epsom and St Helier, and Croydon, will be facing cost reductions of almost a quarter by 2016/17 while simultaneously being asked to improve their services.

The report revealed how local hospitals are falling below standards in areas such as emergency care, maternity care and child services.

Dr Howard Freeman, GP and Joint Medical Director for NHS South West London, said “We have to be honest with local people about the challenges we face. The local NHS must change if we are to give patients the services they need in future. This is why local doctors and nurses are looking at how we might make the £2.3 billion we spend on health services every year work better for patients.

“We face a range of challenges – an ageing population, financial pressures, more people living with long term conditions and not enough senior doctors available round the clock in some of our most vital services – emergency departments, maternity units and children’s services.

“Changing the way we deliver health services will save lives. A recent study showed over 500 deaths could be avoided in London if more senior doctors were available in hospitals at the weekend and changes to stroke services in London have prevented the death of over 200 Londoners in 2010.”

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has released guidelines which recommend much higher levels of senior doctor presence on maternity wards than is currently provided in South West London.

Due to the lack of senior medical staff, services such as maternity units may have to choose between having fewer units with more senior staff; keeping the same number of units with low senior staff presence; or having maternity units offering different levels of service.

Sandra Berry, Chair of Kingston’s Healthwatch said: “There are no firm proposals as yet, just suggestions and ideas, a public discussion. From these discussions will come a firm set of proposals which will be then up for public consultation.”

SWLNHS is currently performing A ‘Better Services, Better Value’ (BSBV) review on health services across Kingston, Croydon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Sutton and Merton. 

There are five BSBV working groups reviewing healthcare services across urgent and emergency care; planned and end-of-life care; long-term conditions; children’s health services and maternity services. 

A fuller picture of where south west London health services are falling short will be presented by the five clinical working groups in the coming months.

The Government’s 2010 Spending Review committed the NHS to cut costs by £20 billion by 2015. This unprecedented 4 per cent reduction, coupled with increasing costs and population changes has put huge pressure on the health service.

The Government this week announced its intention to cut a further £15bn from the public sector.