Cancer ops cancelled over A&E pressures

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Media captionMark Poulden said increased pressures meant some difficult decisions had to be made

Cancer operations have been cancelled and patients have waited for hours in ambulances due to "sustained" winter pressures in hospitals in Wales, a leading consultant has warned.

Mark Poulden, chair of the Welsh College of Emergency Medicine, said the pressure was so intense some staff were going home in tears.

Latest performance figures for emergency units will be released later.

Ministers say an extra £40m will deal with winter pressures.

Mr Poulden, who is an emergency consultant, told BBC Wales: "This winter we're seeing an increase in the numbers of sick, complex patients who're taking longer to work through the system and we're seeing them spending longer in the emergency department because there's no space in the hospitals to move them into ward beds."

He said he was aware of cancer operations which had been cancelled because of the lack of space in hospital.

"Anecdotally for me, the pressure is over a longer period and there seem to be more operations - and significant operations - which have been cancelled."

The most recent figures for November showed that 83.8% of patients were seen in four hours at all A&E units, and 80.3% at major A&E hospitals. The target is 95%.

Mr Poulden said: "We have prolonged delays in patients being off-loaded from ambulances right across Wales and indeed the UK - and not only against the target, which is 15 minutes, but patients waiting for many, many hours in ambulances waiting to be brought into the emergency department and it's a balance of risk then.

"They are in a relatively safe environment because they have a paramedic looking after them and they're monitored, but they're not in an appropriate place to fully assess them and treat them in the emergency department."

Earlier this week, one senior nurse said the stress of working in accident and emergency was worse than her time working in a war zone.

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Media captionLead nurse for emergency medicine Sharon O'Brien and heart attack patient Robin Duggan at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff

Mr Poulden said emergency staff were used to working in demanding situations, but the "relentless sustained pressure and the inability to give the level of care and service people want to give, that's what wears people down."

Almost half of Wales' A&E consultants wrote a joint letter to the health minister in 2013 warning that Welsh hospitals were at the point of meltdown and patients were dying as a result.

Mr Poulden says those concerns may have been listened to, but claims progress has been overtaken by a "tsunami of cases that have come in this year".

He agrees with ministers that Wales is not alone, with hospitals across the UK experiencing significant pressures in recent weeks.

A Welsh government spokesman said: "Integrated plans were put in place in preparation for winter and staff across the heath service have been working tirelessly to ensure that people who have needed urgent and emergency care have received high-quality treatment and services."

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