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Poor critical care 'risking lives'

Thousands of patients needing emergency surgery are having their lives put at risk by poor NHS care and delays in accessing treatment, according to a damning report.

The Royal College of Surgeons study found that only a minority of patients who need critical care following surgery receive it, while some die or suffer major complications because of delays in finding space in operating theatres.

Junior staff are often left in charge of dealing with post-surgical complications, which can rapidly lead to death if not treated promptly, the report went on.

A patient's chance of survival also varies widely between NHS hospitals, and even within the same hospital depending on the day of the week.

The report calls for the NHS to improve the way it deals with this group of "forgotten" patients, who are often elderly.

Some 170,000 patients have major emergency surgery each year, mostly on the abdomen. Of these, 100,000 will develop significant complications following surgery, resulting in more than 25,000 deaths.

In the UK, fewer than one in three of all these patients are admitted to critical care following their surgery. Even those who are admitted only tend to stay 24 hours before enduring a longer hospital stay on other wards.

The report said: "Premature discharge from critical care has been identified as an important risk factor for post-operative death, as has delayed admission to critical care."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We have made clear that safety must be at the heart of the NHS. It is essential that hospitals provide the safest possible care for patients.

"Hospitals should follow this guidance and monitor the quality of care they are giving to their patients and ensure that they are providing appropriate levels of services and staffing. We want our NHS to be truly world class and that's why we are modernising the health service to improve results for patients and safeguard the NHS for future generations."

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