Missed hospital appointments 'cost NHS 1bn a year'

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Chief nurse, Professor Jane Cummings, said: "With the NHS coming under pressure as never before, we are asking patients and the public to use the health service responsibly to help ensure that care is readily available for everyone who needs it".

Authorities have told hospitals to defer routine outpatient appointments and focus on emergencies, the BBC reports.

"I am extremely proud of the outstanding service they provide and can not thank colleagues enough for their dedication, additional hours worked and the care they provide to each other, as well as our patients, when the going gets tough".

Cancer operations and procedures that are time-critical will continue as usual, officials emphasized.

He warned services are being placed under significant strain and called for non-urgent operations to be postponed until at least the end of January.

Tony McDonald, deputy director of Operations at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "As with the majority of other hospitals nationwide, our Emergency Care Department has been experiencing a surge in demand over the Christmas and New Year period".

"This means that ambulances are waiting outside emergency departments waiting to offload, the emergency departments are full, clinical staff are working extremely hard to try and look after these patients, often having to treat patients in corridors, people suffering lengthy delays".

The unusual measure has been taken to ease pressure on overstretched hospital staff who are already dealing with a spike in winter flu cases.

To cope with the increased demand, the panel also advised that CCGs should temporarily suspend sanctions for breaches of mixed sex patient accommodation.

"It is completely unacceptable that the 85% bed occupancy target for general and acute hospital services has been missed every quarter for more than seven years, resulting in patient safety being compromised on a regular basis".

NHS England's Prof Keith Willett admitted the pressures were severe - the worst he had seen since the 1990s - but said plans were in place.

"Short-term fixes, however well meaning, will only get us so far".

"It's not going to get any better, despite the Government saying they'll pump in a few million into the NHS".

Only seven NHS hospital trusts out of 153 have had average bed occupancy below 85 per cent this December - down from 17 at the same time previous year.

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has blamed the pressures on "Tory underfunding".