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Surgeons 'kicking their heels' as bed shortages cause op delays

Surgeons are being left "kicking their heels" because of delays to operations caused by a shortage of beds, two health groups have warned.

The "shocking waste" of highly-skilled surgeons' time is partly caused by a lack of social care to look after elderly patients in the community, they said.

Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, and Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, blamed cuts aimed at driving productivity for causing greater inefficiency in some areas.

In a letter to the Sunday Times, they said: "Because of bed shortages, staff including surgeons are now sometimes left kicking their heels, waiting for beds to become available so they can operate.

"Too often managers, nurses and doctors waste time trying to find somewhere to look after patients.

"At a time when the NHS is being told to make the most of its resources, this is a shocking waste."

Bed occupancy should not exceed 85% for safety reasons but overnight inpatient beds were "routinely" 89% occupied, they said.

"This is partly because there is not enough social care capacity to look after our frail older patients in the community, so increasingly they cannot be discharged from hospital," they added.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted performance in elements of the NHS was "completely unacceptable".

His comments came after figures emerged showing that numbers of A&E patients seen within the target of four hours fell to a record low of 86% in December.

The number of operations cancelled by the NHS in England also hit a 15-year high last year.

A total of 82,730 planned operations were cancelled at the last minute for non-clinical reasons - a third higher than in 2010.

Reacting to the health groups' comments, an NHS England spokesman said: "The level of cancellations remains low at just 1% of the millions of operations performed in the NHS each year."

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