Hospitals ‘coping better with winter’
Hospitals seem to be coping better with winter, NHS England figures suggest.
Data released for the festive period showed fewer A&E closures and ambulance delays than the same period last year. Levels of flu and vomiting bug Norovirus also remain low.
NHS England said the improvement was a result of good planning and hard work by staff.
But senior doctors warned the picture could deteriorate in the coming week because of an impending cold snap.
The figures released on Thursday cover the two weeks to last Sunday.
They showed there were 32 A&E diverts – where doors are closed to ambulances. That compares with 45 in the same period last year.
Meanwhile, about one in nine ambulance crews faced delays dropping patients off at hospital. It reached a peak of one in five last year.
An NHS England spokesperson said: "Thanks to the hard work and preparation of NHS staff, the health service is performing better this winter than last."
Christmas performance figures are not available yet for the rest of the UK.
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Is the NHS in the clear this winter?
Those working in the NHS are cautious about saying hospitals have escaped the chaos seen in previous winters.
Last January, non-emergency operations had to be cancelled en masse to help ease the burden on A&Es and there were reports of large numbers of patients queuing in corridors.
That is all still happening to some extent, but there is a sense that the service is coping better, with improved access to social care and GPs cited as two key factors.
Nonetheless, pressures remain incredibly high, with the three key waiting-time targets for the NHS – covering A&Es, cancer and routine operations – still being missed.
And there is also an acknowledgement that if a sustained cold spell develops, or if flu levels start rising, things could unravel.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said he was "expecting severe difficulties" as the cold snap sets in over the next week and added further stress to stretched NHS services.
And he said hospitals still saw "fits and spells of manic activity" over the last week despite the signs of improvement.