Tuesday, November 3, 1998 Published at 19:16 GMT
Surgeon slams bed cuts
Patients can be left without proper care on the wards
Government cuts in the number of hospital beds are affecting the quality of patient care, a senior surgeon has said.
Mr John Williams, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said the cuts meant patients were staying for shorter lengths of time in hospital, and this put extra pressure on patients and staff.
The government has denied that patient care was being compromised and said that an extra 3,000 beds had been made available in the UK this year.
But Mr Williams said the situation had reached the point where a patient's condition could deteriorate significantly without staff noticing.
He said that within the past month an elderly patient in his care had a slight stroke, which went unnoticed.
Busy staff might not recognise a mini-stroke, he said, and think instead that a patient had fainted.
He said: "Lack of available beds obviously has a fundamental effect on the quality of care a patient receives and risk management.
"You have an 80-year-old coming into hospital at 7am to be operated on the same day. It puts unnecessary stress on the patient.
"It's also difficult to assess them properly. Sometimes an anaesthetist might only be able to examine a patient just before they are due to be operated on.
"They might even be told at that late stage that they are not fit to undergo surgery.
"If the operation does go ahead, the patient might only be able to go back to a bed in a mixed ward."
Mr Williams is on the Government's waiting list task force, and said he had brought his concerns to the attention of the Department of Health.
The Government said that it always puts "the welfare and of patients and quality of their care first".
"The NHS has provided an extra 3,000 beds this year, thanks to the £417m made available for waiting list work.
"Two thousand extra beds opened throughout the NHS and more than 1,100 further beds, which are planned to close this year, have been kept open."
Joyce Robbins, a council member for the Patient's Association, expressed surprise at Mr Williams' target.
She said that these days it was usually staffing levels that caused a problem rather than beds.
However, she agreed with Mr Williams that resourcing problems meant staff could not always attend to all of a patient's needs.
"The overall lack of resources in the health service - despite government promises - means the standard of care is not what it should be."
She said the association had heard of patients left to starve on wards, elderly patients who fall and break a hip on their way to the toilet and people being discharged too early and having to return to hospital.
Part of the problem was the amount of money spent on health care per person - £800 per person in the UK compared with £1,200 in Germany, she said.
But extra resources were not used in the right way and this could cause additional problems, she added.
"Governments tend to target waiting lists, which are not at the root of health services. This tends to distort the needs in other fields," she said.