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The BBC's James Westhead
"Brain surgeons fear growing pressure on services could put lives at risk"
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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 02:04 GMT
Neurosurgeon shortage 'critical'

Neurosurgeons are under pressure

The UK's neurosurgery units remain desperately short of doctors and beds, according to a survey.

The Society of British Neurological Surgeons says the shortage could be putting patients at risk.

Neurosurgeons carry out brain and spinal surgery, mainly emergency operations to deal with brain haemorrhages and tumours, and head injuries.

Last year, the Royal College of Surgeons, which sets standards for the profession, recommended that the number of trained neurosurgeons should be radically increased.

However, six months on, the Society of British Neurological Surgeons has issued a second report showing, it says, that little progress has been made.

It found that only just over half of the UK's 37 units had reached the minimum number of consultant surgeons.

And only 14% had the recommended number of intensive care beds.

Honorary secretary Professor David Thomas said that it could take 10 to 15 years to rectify the situation, even if the government pumped in more money now.

He said: "Units are working at full capacity all the time, and people may be discharged earlier than normal.

Pressure to reduce hours

"This may mean that in a small percentage of cases, if something goes wrong, they would have to be re-admitted, which is not good."

Pressures to reduce the number of hours worked by junior doctors would increase further the workload borne by present neurosurgeons, he said.

Professor Thomas said that the ageing population would mean that demand for their services would continue to rise.

Although emergency cases would continue to be seen straightaway, he said, non-urgent cases, such as people in pain from spinal injuries, would have to wait longer in future.

The society is calling for the government to plan to fill an extra 92 consultant neurosurgeon posts.

At present, there are 172 in the UK, and Professor Thomas said: "To increase the body of neurosurgeons by 50% can't be done at a stroke."

The president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Mr Barry Jackson, said: "The situation is urgent. Our report makes it clear that almost all neurosurgical units are frequently working beyond their safe capacity."

Last year 49,000 neurological operations were carried out in the UK - 4,050 were trauma cases dealing with head or spinal injuries, and 29,000 were medical emergencies.

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See also:
20 Jul 99 |  Health
Surgeons warn of workforce crisis
11 Nov 99 |  Health
'Four-year wait' for outpatient appointment
17 Nov 99 |  Health
Elderly 'need surgery priority'
27 Jan 00 |  Health
Call for government action on beds

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