Hunt targeted on ‘major incidents’

Published: Wednesday 28th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is facing demands for an explanation after the NHS in England issued new guidelines to hospitals about when they can declare a “major incident”.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham warned the new “enhanced criteria” – reportedly issued to NHS trusts in the West Midlands – effectively made it impossible for hospitals to call a major incident, potentially raising concerns about patient safety.

Major incidents are declared when patient demand reaches a level that could disrupt hospital services, triggering an alert to community hospitals and other health centres in the area to make extra beds available.

Mr Burnham said the move was being seen by staff as an attempt at “news management” after a series of hospitals declared major incidents at the start of the year – prompting a rash of damaging headlines for the Government.

“To have this introduced in the second or third week of January – in the middle of the worst January people can remember for a very long time – does raise some very serious questions,” he told BBC News .

“On the front line, people perceive this as more about news management than patient safety. We need to know who wrote this guidance, who approved this guidance, was it approved by NHS England at national level, or indeed by the Department of Health, or by ministers?

“Some of the points in the criteria make it effectively impossible for them to declare a major incident. One of the questions I have is ‘Is that consistent with good patient safety?’.

“To have enhanced criteria – ie new hurdles being created – just strikes me as strange in the middle of winter. That’s why it does leave the Government with some fairly serious questions to answer today.”

The BBC reported that the 17 new criteria included a requirement for hospitals to check whether community services had been “flexed” to support early patient discharge and whether all available community capacity has been utilised.

In an email exchange quoted by the BBC, a head of operations at one NHS trust said he believed the guidelines were intended to prevent hospital trusts calling any more major incidents.

“This is the enhanced criteria that have been introduced by NHS England to effectively stop trusts from calling a major incident,” he wrote.

“Worth sharing with emergency department consultants as our hands will be tied in most cases if they wish to call a major incident for capacity reasons.”

An A&E consultant replied: “It strikes me as an attempt to dampen down the heat and media attention on the emergency departments and their major incidents.”

Mr Burnham has been granted an urgent question on the issue and Mr Hunt is expected to respond. The urgent question will take place after Prime Minister’s Questions at about 12.30pm.

Published: Wednesday 28th January 2015 by The News Editor

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