Firefighters to be sent to medical emergencies as London Ambulance Service receives ‘unprecedented’ number of 999 calls


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Firefighters are to be dispatched to medical emergencies to help London paramedics cope with an “unprecedented” number of 999 calls.

A pilot scheme in four London boroughs will see fire crews deployed at the same time as ambulances to patients in life-threatening situations.

Firefighters will provide basic life support and use automatic defibrillators to restart hearts if they arrive first, but will not take patients to hospital.

It comes as London Ambulance Service revealed that last month was busier than December for the first time, with January having 46,201 “Category A” emergencies, the highest number ever recorded and almost 1,000 more than the previous month.

LAS chief executive Dr Fionna Moore said it had received more than 300 calls an hour “on a regular basis” over the last fortnight – well above the normal rate of 250 an hour – in the latest indication of the soaring pressure on the NHS.

The busiest period was 2am to 3am on January 1, when LAS received 512 emergency calls, compared to 469 last year. “It’s unprecedented, what we are seeing,” LAS director of performance Paul Woodrow said.

The “co-responder” partnership with London Fire Brigade will run for four months in Merton, Wandsworth, Newham and Lambeth, and elsewhere in the country, after the Fire Brigades Union withdrew long-standing objections.

The pilot will capitalise on the lower “utilisation” rates for firefighters, who spend less of their time on calls than ambulance crews.

Metropolitan police vehicles in Enfield, Croydon and Ealing began carrying defibrillators last November in a similar initiative to improve survival rates for people suffering out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.

The LAS has also partnered with the Good Sam phone app, which directs trained life-savers, such as doctors and nurses, who are off duty but have volunteered to help, to incidents nearby.

Ambulance chiefs said there had been a 20 per cent increase in the most serious “Category A” calls, which include cardiac arrest, suspected heart attack and other immediately life-threatening conditions, in the last two years.

Many of the additional calls relate to patients with breathing difficulties, an indicator of how the NHS is having to treat an older and sicker population.

Ambulance calls December 2015

Jill Patterson, LAS interim director of performance, said: “Across 2013/14 we were seeing 1,200 Category A calls daily. At the moment we are seeing just short of 1,500 daily. That is an increase of about 20 per cent.”
Crews reached 66 per cent of incidents within eight minutes – well below the 75 per cent target.

However “green shoots” of recovery were reported, with performance on four days in December exceeding target, despite staff shortages and the huge number of calls. LAS crews attended 92,248 calls in December, the highest figure of 2015 and more than 4,000 up on November.

LAS interim medical director Dr Fenella Wrigley said: “We have seen an increase in viral illnesses like coughs and colds and more people suffering with respiratory illnesses – in particular more elderly people and people with underlying medical conditions such as asthma or lung disease who may be at greater risk of complications like chest infections.”

Paramedics come from a land Down Under: London Ambulance Service heads back to Oz to hire more front-line staff


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London Ambulance Service is to return to Australia to recruit more foreign paramedics to help plug almost 250 front-line vacancies.

The UK’s busiest ambulance service aims to cash-in on the difficulty newly-qualified paramedics have in finding work in Australia by luring another 150 to the capital. Three previous recruitment drives Down Under netted 550 staff – 280 are already at work and 270 are about to start their training.

See a video here:

Natasha Wills, assistant director of operations at LAS, said: “Our last recruitment events in Melbourne and Sydney were so successful that we’re hoping to attract even more paramedics to join us in London this time.

“There are so many different opportunities with London Ambulance that you can’t get anywhere else, such as working on a motorbike, cycle or car or for the hazardous area response team. I’d encourage any Australian to come and make the most of their career in London as a recognised paramedic – you won’t regret it.”

A LAS recruitment team will spend a week in both Sydney and Melbourne in April. The shortage of staff has meant it has consistently failed to hit response times for 999 calls, and saw the organisation placed in special measures by the Care Quality Commission.

The service also wants “home grown” paramedics and has opened a “training academy” in Fulham to enable lower-rank staff to become registered paramedics. Eighteen trainees began their studies earlier this month, with a further 18 due to start on the two-year part-time course later this year.

LAS chief executive Dr Fionna Moore said: “The academy will not only help boost staff retention, but will also complement our current campaign to recruit qualified paramedics.
“After feedback from staff on the need for further education and development we hope this programme will offer a clear and defined career path.

“Once qualified, trainees will also have the option of further career development by going on to train as a senior paramedic, advanced paramedic practitioner or even a paramedic consultant.”

Boris and Sir Peter Hendy lead tributes to TfL aide who died from cancer aged 42


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Stuart Ross and the new Boris bus

Stuart Ross at the launch of the new Boris bus

Boris  Johnson today led tributes to a key transport aide who helped mastermind London’s preparations for the 2012 Olympics and the capital’s recovery from the 7/7 terror attack.

The Mayor said Stuart Ross, who has died aged 42 after a 20-month battle with cancer, had made an “immense” contribution to London in his 15 years at Transport for London.

Mr Johnson said: “Stuart’s contribution to London and Londoners through his work at TfL was immense. He played a pivotal role in the transformation of TfL’s reputation in the press and amongst the public in recent years.

“Above all Stuart was a generous and thoughtful man who faced death as he approached life – with a mix of calmness, courage, good humour, and fight.”

Mr Ross, who was married to Becky and had a three-year-old daughter, Rowan, was director of news at TfL, one of the most demanding public relations jobs in the country.

He was at the forefront of TfL’s communications during the launch of the congestion charge in 2003, the 2005 terror attacks, and the unprecedented demands from the world’s media before and during the 2012 Games.

He used the death two weeks ago of David Bowie, one of his musical heroes, to announce to friends his own “farewell tour”. He said: “Cancer may get me in the end, but it never beat me.”

His team won numerous industry awards, including for crisis communications in the wake of 7/7 crisis, and for London’s successful hosting of the 2007 Tour de France Grand Depart.

Click here to read this fantastic piece by Dan Hodges on his time as TfL director of communications, in which he recalls how Stuart saved him from PR disaster on many occasions.

See also another tribute to Stuart on the London Reconnections website.

He worked closely with three TfL commissioners, serving under Bob Kiley, Sir Peter Hendy and Mike Brown, and played a key role in briefing Ken Livingstone and Mr Johnson during their mayoral terms. He was renowned for his combative but fair approach with journalists, in-depth knowledge of the vast TfL empire and pride in the organisation.

Mr Ross, an avid Arsenal and Hibernian fan, died last Friday, January 22. A memorial service is being planned. [Update: It will be held at City Hall at 11am on Saturday February 20.]

Sir Peter, now chairman of Network Rail, said: “Stuart Ross was a straight, honest, passionate man. That he was a press officer for a public institution makes those qualities rare; that he was a real friend even rarer.

“London’s transport, and Londoners, if they knew it, had a defender of deep integrity. His tragically early death robs us of what he might have achieved, but makes us all thankful of what he did do.

“I salute his memory, and my heart goes out to his wife, child and family. Stuart, RIP.”

Stuart Ross at the London Olympics

Stuart Ross at the London Olympics in 2012

TfL commissioner Mike Brown said: “Stuart will be hugely missed, both as a highly distinguished public servant, and as an inspirational and warm-hearted colleague.

“He played a vital role in key moments in TfL’s history, from the aftermath of 7/7 to the huge success of the 2012 Games. He led by example – continually seeking to make our organisation reflective of the city we serve.”

Vernon Everitt, managing director of customer experience, marketing and communications at TfL, said: “It is impossible to overstate Stuart’s enormous contribution to London. He joined TfL in 2000 and has been instrumental in making us the organisation we are today.

“He always put the needs of others first and has given a start in life to so many young people in the communications industry, including through a ground-breaking internship scheme.

“Stuart will always be an inspiration and hero to us and we will all miss him terribly as a colleague and friend. Our thoughts are with his family and many friends.”

World-first as centre for rare childhood diseases built in London after £60m gift


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The first centre in the world dedicated to rare childhood diseases is to open in London after a record donation to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.

The family of the founder of the United Arab Emirates gave the charity £60 million – the majority of the consutuction costs – with construction work due to start in March.

Due to open in Bloomsbury in late 2018, it will be named the Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children in honour of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who died in 2004.

The centre, in Guildford Street, will bring together doctors from Great Ormond Street Hospital and scientists from its academic partner, UCL’s Institute for Child Health. By co-locating hundreds of experts and allowing more staff to be hired, this will accelerate the discovery of treatments and cures and ensure the young patients gain the access to the latest therapies and clinical trials.

Professor Bobby Gaspar, director designate for the new centre, said the “cross-fertilisation of ideas” was vital to maintain advances in cell and gene therapy. The extra space will allow up to a 20 per cent increase in outpatients, helping GOSH to respond to “ever-increasing demand”.

Gene therapy offers new hope to children with rare diseases by effectively using their own bodies to repair the damage caused by faulty or missing genes, rather than relying on bone marrow donations from other people. This removes the difficulty of finding a match and the risk of the transplant being rejected.

There are more than 6,000 rare diseases, including childhood cancers, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. A rare disease is defined as affecting less than one person in 2,000.

“This is a more fundamental way to treat these diseases,” Professor Gaspar said. “You are not using external medicines. You are not doing bone marrow transplants, using somebody else’s cells. This is using the individual’s own cells.”


One of his patients was Nina Warnell, who was diagnosed aged five weeks with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). The condition is sometimes dubbed “bubble baby” as patients need to live in a sterile environment.

Nina’s treatment involved re-engineering her bone marrow to add a vital missing gene and “re-boot” her immune system. SCID affects about one in 250,000 children in the UK.

Nina’s parents Graeme and Aga Warnell didn’t want to put her through a risky bone marrow transplant. She received the gene therapy in April 2013. Next month she will turn four.

“It’s worked out incredibly well for her,” Professor Gaspar said. “There were greater risks with using a bone marrow donor. The immediate risks of using her own cells were very low. What we didn’t know was whether it would work.”

Gene therapy has potential to move away from its “niche” application and be used for certain skin conditions, in children born with HIV and in children with the hereditary blood disorders thalassaemia and sickle cell anaemia.

The Zayed Centre for Research will have a key role in the interpreting the data received from the Prime Minister’s 100,000 Genomes project, which is sequencing DNA from patients with rare diseases or cancer and their families. The challenge is not in reading the code but interpreting what it means in terms of disease.

In addition, the Zayed Centre for Research’s seven “clean rooms” will be used to repair and grow new organs, such as the windpipe and oesophagus. These organs are taken from deceased donors and “re-seeded” with bone marrow cells from the new recipient.

The donation from Sheikh Zayed’s widow, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, was inspired by a wish to support pioneering healthcare globally, including for patients from the UAE.

Professor Gaspar said: “They saw this as a big project, a big statement of what they wanted to do. It was very innovative. It involved both the care of children with very severe conditions, and most importantly, developing cutting-edge research that would impact on these children.

“Right from the beginning, this was not just a centre that was there to help children at Great Ormond Street. It was there to help children nationally and globally. It was incredibly generous, and allowed us to take this project forward.

“Medicine is moving so rapidly in so many kinds of different areas. We at the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street have real expertise and innovation in so many areas that we have developed in the last 10 to 15 years. We want to take that to another level.”

He said the new centre would enable a huge increase in clinical trials. “At the moment we are treating 10 to 15 patients a year in gene and cell therapy. We hope to be treating 100 a year.”

The site, at 20 Guildford Street, was previously a UCL computer lab. It was bought by the Great Ormond Street Children’s Charity in 2010. It sits opposite Coram’s Fields, which has been dedicated to the wellbeing of children for 250 years.

The Zayed Centre for Research has been designed by Stanton Williams architects, which won the 2012 Stirling Prize for the Sainsbury Laboratory at Cambridge university. The outpatient space is expected to provide 21 consultation rooms, eight clinical investment rooms and other facilities. There will be tissue culture labs, a cardiology suite and a flow cytometry suite for cell analysis. It will train the next generation of doctors and scientists.

The centre’s work will be targeted in key disciplines for GOSH: cardiac, respiratory, immunology, solid cancers, bone marrow transplantation and neuro-muscular diseases.

The glass design of the building will provide a “window” to the research being carried out on in its basement floors. Scientists and patients will share the same entrance – a deliberate ploy to encourage one group to inspire the other.

“There is a real sense that these are two activities that are joined,” said Gavin Henderson, director of Stanton Williams. “The researchers will see patients and see the outcomes of what they are doing. The patients will engage with the research staff, and understand the work that is going on in the building is positively feeding back to the treatment they are receiving.

“It’s not something that is happening in an ivory tower research environment. It’s somewhere you can understand the importance of what you are doing, because you see patients who are benefiting on a day-to-day basis.”

The building’s exterior will feature vertical terracotta “fins”, with timber and other natural materials inside. The brief was to focus on medical research rather than “iconic” architecture, and to fit in with the Bloomsbury conservation area. The designs benefits from lessons learned from the Sainsbury Laboratory.

Mr Henderson said: “I think it’s going to make a powerful statement about the importance of the work done here. It’s not trying to symbolise in any obvious way the hospital nature of the building. Children are going to be treated here. It’s not about creating an aggressively clinical environment.

“This is a very unusual brief, and an exciting brief because of this combination of research and treatment in the same building. That makes it very complicated to design, but is at the heart of what made the project interesting.

“It’s tremendously exciting to be working on something of international significance and such importance to society as a whole, and to be working with the teams from GOSH and ICH, who are world-leaders in their field.”

Boris wants HGVs to be fitted with ‘glass doors’ to save cyclists and pedestrians



Lorries being driven in London could be required to fit an “extra window” to their passenger-side doors, under plans unveiled by Boris Johnson to tackle deadly blind spots.

The Mayor today launched a consultation on requiring the lower panel of the doors to be replaced with a glass panel, effectively creating a a transparent door, at a cost of £1,000 to £1,500 per HGV.

Firms refusing to comply could face fines of up to £1,000 and the threat of losing their operators’ licence.

The extension of the Safer Lorry Scheme comes after seven of the nine cyclists killed in the capital last year involved lorry collisions. Since last September, vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are required to fit extra mirrors and side guards to prevent cyclists or pedestrians being dragged under their wheels when the vehicles are turning.

Transport for London today announced the first successful prosecution of two firms to breach the rules, which apply on all roads excluding motorways within the M25.

The latest proposals would be enforced by the Met police, DVSA and TfL’s HGV task force under an extension of the congestion charge or lower emission zone rules. The “in principle” consultation closes in March, meaning it would be for the next Mayor to decide whether to impose the new sanctions after finalising the details. New restrictions could apply 24/7, at peak hours or only on certain routes.

Mr Johnson said: “The danger caused by HGVs to other road users is unacceptable and we have to reduce it. With the launch last year of my Safer Lorry Scheme, we have already made real progress.

“Seven of those nine cyclist deaths involved lorries and that is why we have to press on to the next stage. The cost per lorry is modest. The benefit to Londoners’ safety will be significant.”

Two haulage firms, D & R Grab Hire Limited and What a Load of Rubbish Limited, were each fined £500 plus £235 costs by City of London magistrates last month for having no Class VI mirrors or side guards on one of their vehicles.

TfL said that since the Safer Lorry Scheme launched last September, 5,610 vehicles had been targeted and stopped, with 269 of those found to have been in breach of the new rules.

At last! Boris bikes arrive at the Olympic park after £1.4 million extension of Mayor’s cycle hire scheme



Boris bike rack near Orbit

Jessica Ennis-Hill returned to the scene of her London 2012 glory yesterday to mark the arrival of the first Boris bikes in the Olympic park.

The Olympic and world champion heptathlete unveiled the £1.4 million expansion of the Mayor’s bike hire scheme – including some special edition gold bikes to reflect the 2012 legacy. It is the third expansion of the scheme, following its arrival at Canary Wharf and then Wandsworth and Chelsea.

Boris bike olympic stadium

Now sponsored by Santander, the scheme will have 310 docking points at eight docking stations in the 560-acre Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, including sites at the velodrome, aquatics centre and Stratford station.

Ennis-Hill, a Santander ambassador, said the Olympic expansion of the scheme – almost six years after its central London launch – was “brilliant”. However she said she rarely got to ride a bike, being limited to a static bike in the gym for her strict training regime.

She said: “The venue is so iconic and holds lots of great memories for me, but above all there is so much to do and see around the park.”

Boris bikes at velodrome

The scheme is the second largest in Europe, with 11,500 bikes and 761 docking stations.

Two more docking stations will be opened at Here East, the new “digital quarter” on the north-west corner of the Olympic park, in the Spring. More docking stations are also planned for King’s Cross, Stockwell and Vauxhall. The bikes have been hired more than 47 million times.

The other docking stations in the Olympic park unveiled today are at the Orbit tower, East Village, Copper Box, Timber Lodge and Monier Road. Transport for London hopes the bikes will encourage cyclists to use cycle superhighway 2, currently being rebuilt and due to be completed by April, to ride between Stratford and central London.

Boris bike rack aquatics centre

Mr Johnson said: “It is fantastic to see our iconic cycle hire scheme spread its wings to the glorious setting of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

“The scheme has developed beyond recognition since it first started. It’s a real boost for commuters, shoppers and tourists, and another shot in the arm for booming east London.”

Boris bike map of Olympic docking stations

Junior doctors protest at Jeremy Hunt’s ‘false and damaging’ claims over weekend death rates



Junior doctors Hunt protest 3

Junior doctors and academics yesterday protested outside Parliament at Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s “false and damaging” claim that people who suffer a stroke at the weekend are 20 per cent more likely to die.

They handed in a letter to the Department of Health accusing him of “misleading” the public and damaging confidence in the NHS’s emergency care, which is already available seven days a week. They carried a giant poster of the book How To Read A Paper to highlight his perceived inability to understand and interpret clinical research.

Junior doctors Hunt protest 2

Mr Hunt, as part of his drive to secure victory in the dispute with junior doctors and create a so-called “seven-day NHS”, claimed: “At the moment we have an NHS where if you have a stroke at weekends you’re 20 per cent more likely to die.”

Mr Hunt’s critics say he was quoting from old statistics that failed to recognise advances in stroke care, especially in London. They say more recent studies showed there was no longer an increased risk of death to stroke patients at the weekend.

Dr Dominic Pimenta, a London-based junior doctor, said: “This group wants to raise awareness about the culture of scaremongering based on misrepresenting statistics by politicians, which we find reprehensible and dangerous.

“Already we are finding evidence of patients coming to harm as they delay attending hospital, having been told by the Government that hospitals are unsafe at the weekend.”

Junior doctors Hunt protest 1

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The public should not delay accessing services if they need them. However, there is clear independent clinical evidence that standards of care are not uniform across the week and this Government makes no apology for tackling the problem to make sure all patients receive the same high quality care seven days a week.”

Last year Mr Hunt was criticised by Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal, for wrongly linking a study it published on “excess” weekend mortality rates to lower staffing levels. See here for more on the “Hunt effect” and how it is claimed to have deterred patients from seeking medical help.

Acas talks were resuming today between the Government and British Medical Association in a bid to avert a junior doctors’ strike on February 10 that would include the withdrawal of cover in emergency departments for the first time. A two-day walkout planned to start next Tuesday [Jan 26] was called off by the BMA earlier this week.

Trust launches probe after spike in deaths at London hospital



An investigation has been launched into a sudden spike in deaths at a London hospital.

Barts Health NHS Trust is examining an increase in mortality rates at Whipps Cross hospital, in Leytonstone, where 260 people aged 90 or older have died in a year.

The trust, the biggest in the UK, runs five east London hospitals and its death rates are consistently among the lowest in the country. However bosses became concerned when the number of deaths at Whipps Cross between October and December increased above what would normally be expected, and ordered the internal inquiry.

Professor Jo Martin, interim medical director at Barts Health, said: “At Whipps Cross, we know we have got an older population. But in terms of our deaths between December 2014 and November 2015, our deaths in the 90 to 100 age group, we had approximately 70 of these at Newham, 20 or so at Barts, 60 at the Royal London but 260 at Whipps Cross.
“The age profile of those dying at Whipps Cross is very, very heavily skewed on those over 70, 80 and 90. We have got a much older population and sicker population there. The mortality review will look at that in the round.”

Professor Martin said the “sophisticated analyses” would examine the age of the patients and the day they were admitted to hospital. Barts Health recently changed its rules to make it easier for terminally ill patients to leave Whipps Cross “so they can die in the place of their choosing”.

Professor Martin told the trust’s board: “The trust’s overall mortality continues to be good at 0.88, but we looked at the detailed mortality figures behind that – it varies by site. We had a rise above one, which is the average, to 1.02 at Whipps Cross. That is the subject of a more detailed investigation.”

Procedures across the trust are under investigation by NHS commissioners after a series of “never events” – incidents so serious they should never have occurred.

These include five recent instances of naso-gastric tubes being inserted in the wrong place – normally into a patient’s lungs rather than their stomach. The incidents have occurred at night, when senior staff have not been working.

Staff have been ordered to wait until the morning where possible, and to check the placement of the tube – which is inserted via the nose – by X-ray. The trust, which was placed in special measures last year after being ranked “inadequate” by the NHS watchdog, faces large fines as a result of the blunders.

Professor Martin said, in relation to the threat of fines: “I’m not surprised, given the number [of never events[] we have had over the last year, that this has happened.”

NHS fears ‘nightmare’ scenario of junior doctors’ walk-out on same day as Tube strike


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Hospital bosses fear a “nightmare” scenario if a second junior doctors’ strike goes ahead as it will coincide with a proposed Tube strike, the Standard can reveal.

Contingency plans are being ramped up across the London NHS amid major concerns that a total shutdown of the Underground on January 26 will make it even harder to provide cover for absent junior doctors.

This could lead to far greater impact on patients than the first doctors’ strike on Tuesday, when 522 operations were postponed in the capital and thousands of outpatient clinics were cancelled.

Today the Standard can also reveal that hundreds of non-urgent operations were postponed by NHS chiefs over Christmas when 28 “struggling” trusts were ordered to “clear the decks” to avert a feared winter meltdown in A&E.

Hospitals were told by the Trust Development Authority to reduce bed occupancy to 80 per cent by Christmas Eve to ensure there was spare capacity to admit patients taken unwell over the two-week festive period.

Barts Health, which has five east London hospitals and is currently in special measures, was one of those told to free-up beds. Another was London North West Healthcare, which runs Northwick Park and Ealing hospitals. Croydon said it only carried out urgent operations.

Barts’ chief operating officer Jacqueline Totterdell said cancer patients and those on the waiting list for more than a year had their operations proceed as normal. She said the system worked well as it enabled 90 per cent of its A&E patients to be seen within four hours for most of the period.

“Staff felt this was one of the better times we have had over the Christmas and New Year period,” she said. “It didn’t feel chaotic. It felt calm and in control.”

Barts Health, the country’s biggest NHS trust with five east London hospitals, was forced to cancel 100 operations and 17 per cent of clinics when junior doctors went on strike on Tuesday. Talks between the Government and British Medical Association were resuming today at Acas.

One senior NHS boss told the Standard it would “be a nightmare” if a 48-hour doctors’ strike due to start at 8am on January 26 went ahead as it would overlap with a walkout called by three unions in dispute over the Night Tube. Tube unions are also due to strike on February 15 and 17, while junior doctors have planned a third walkout – including A&E and maternity departments for the first time – on February 10.

A spokeswoman for NHS England (London) said: “We are aware that the next planned  industrial action by junior doctors coincides with a potential Tube strike.

“We are currently taking steps to plan for this and we are working closely with the London Ambulance Service, all healthcare providers in London as well as other agencies across the capital to ensure that patients will continue to receive the care they need during this time.”

A spokesman for the Trust Development Authority said: “The Christmas and winter period always places extra demand on the NHS – that is why we worked with all hospitals to ensure they were fully prepared to meet this challenge.

“Having sufficient bed capacity going into Christmas is key to a trust’s ability to respond to high levels of patient demand. By working with trusts to manage planned non-emergency operations and helping patients to get out of hospital more quickly we can make sure they have enough free beds to cope with the rising number of patients needing emergency care.”

A spokesman for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said: “We did not cancel operations this Christmas but, as part of our planning for the year, we carried out only urgent operations.  We did this to make sure we had enough capacity to care for the very sick during one of our busiest times.

“Reducing the number of planned operations over Christmas is not unusual.  This helps us to free-up hospital beds to care for more people safely and in the shortest time possible – including those in life-critical conditions.”

700 operations cancelled and thousands of appointments axed in London as junior doctors go on strike


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Thousands of patients had hospital clinics cancelled and about 700 operations were postponed across London as junior doctors went on strike for the first time in 40 years.

Picket lines were in place outside 20 of the capital’s hospitals as services were reduced to “Christmas day levels”. Emergency care and treatment for cancer patients was unaffected.

Dr Andy Mitchell, London medical director for NHS England, said the walkouts would “compound the problem” caused by winter pressures – many London hospitals are declaring “black alerts” because they have run out of beds, and a flu alert has been issued.

Dr Mitchell said junior doctors were “clearly highly disillusioned” but pleaded with them to negotiate a settlement rather than continuing their strike.

He told the Standard: “Junior doctors are a crucial part of the NHS workforce but industrial action isn’t without consequences. For patients to have their surgery delayed is terrible and has a massive impact on their lives. It’s not as if these patients are less important by virtue of their condition not being acute or life-threatening.”

Today’s protests were kept deliberately low-key, with many strikers holding “meet the doctors” sessions in train and Tube stations in a bid to explain their case to the public. A poll for Newsnight found 66 per cent of the public backed junior doctors as long as emergency care was maintained.

The action, which continues until 8am tomorrow, will be followed by a 48-hour walkout starting on January 26 and for nine hours on February 10, when junior doctors working in A&E also taking part.

Dr Dagan Lonsdale, a junior doctor at St George’s hospital, said they had been forced into action by the Government’s threat to impose new contracts that would lead to “unsafe” staffing and pay cuts of up to 30 per cent for some doctors. A British Medical Association strike ballot won 98 per cent support.

He told the Standard: “None of us wants to do it. If you speak to any junior doctor, most will have a story about an individual in their lives who inspired them to do medicine. That is certainly true in my case. Taking strike action is the least worst option. If these contacts come into force, it will be so detrimental.”

King’s College hospital and the Princess Royal hospital were forced to postpone 35 elective inpatient operations and cancel 27 outpatient clinics attended by 450 people.

Barts Health, the UK’s biggest trust, with five east London hospitals, said: “Urgent and emergency care only will be provided, so services… will be similar to a Christmas Day.”

Guy’s and St Thomas’ rescheduled 35 non-urgent operations – about 10 per cent of a day’s elective surgery. Imperial, which has five west London hospitals, said “some elective surgery for non-urgent and non-cancer patients” was axed. The Royal Free, which runs three north London hospitals, said 31 inpatient and day-case operations and 14 clinics were cancelled and 71 clincis had fewer appointments than normal.

Croydon hospital chief executive John Goulston said: “It is with real regret that we must postpone 13 planned operations and almost 400 outpatient appointments that had been scheduled to take place.”


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