NHS in Wales 'faces more pressure than ever'

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Operations were cancelled at (clockwise from top left): Withybush, Prince Philip, Bronglais, and Glangwili hospitals

The NHS in Wales is under more pressure than ever, a nurses’ leader has said.

It comes after Hywel Dda health board cancelled planned operations at four hospitals following “an extraordinary weekend” of added pressure.

Helen Whyley, director for the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, said: “I speak to members regularly across Wales and the pressure is more than it has ever been.

“There’s a number of complex reasons for that,” she added.

“What it means is, on the frontline for staff every day, it is a real battle to make sure patients get the care they require,” Mrs Whyley told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast with Claire Summers.

She called for “everyone to get back in the room” to see “what more can be done to make sure these pressures are alleviated” across Wales.

Hywel Dda said “critical pressures” had been felt across A&E departments, GPs and community services over the weekend.

Ceri Phillips, a professor of health economics at Swansea University, said “winter pressures are not new” but unplanned hospital admissions were “very difficult to plan for”.

What are winter pressures?

Although the NHS is under pressure all year round, the period after Christmas and the first few weeks of New Year is often the most difficult, as staff try to deal with significant numbers of seriously ill patients. There are several reasons for this.

As a result of the festive season’s bank holidays, there has been reduced access to community services such as GP services and social care services which can cause logjams to develop in hospitals.

During the holiday period, people might also put off getting a potential health problem checked out.

And pressures are also caused because of winter bugs, with the current flu season already looking worse than last year.

The Welsh Government said it had given £30m to health boards to provide extra capacity this winter.

Helen Mary Jones, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on health and AM for Mid and West Wales, said added pressure, such as hospital patients unable to be discharged into the community, had created “a real crisis” for staff and patients in Hwyel Dda health board area.

She said Wales’ health boards should be allowed to share staff to pool resources.

“We spend a huge amount of our budget on health, rightly, here in Wales… and we are still not getting it right and that can’t be allowed to carry on,” she said.

On Monday, the health board cancelled operations at Bronglais, Glangwili, Prince Philip and Withybush hospitals “in the interest of patient safety”.

Bosses said staff would be redeployed where additional support was needed, including contacting those on leave.

Figures published last month showed accident and emergency performance at hospitals in Wales was at a record low for the third month running and the Welsh Ambulance Service failed to meet its response time target for the first time in four years.

Angela Burns, the Welsh Conservatives’ shadow health minister, said: “It seems that Wales’ NHS suffers from extraordinary pressures month in, month out.”

Cardiff and Vale health board and Swansea Bay health board said services were busy but planned operations were continuing as usual on Tuesday.

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