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Government urged to act on NHS pressures

The Prime Minister and Health Secretary are under increased pressure to address NHS conditions.

The UK Government is facing increasing pressure to address the “intolerable and unsustainable” conditions currently facing the National Health Service (NHS). Senior doctors have described the NHS as being on a “knife edge”, with some accident and emergency departments in a “complete state of crisis”. Following the pandemic, waiting lists have been further exacerbated by strikes of healthcare workers.

Hospitals are currently dealing with high levels of demand, which is believed to be driven in part by winter illnesses such as flu and Covid-19. Figures from NHS England show that 13 percent of hospital beds in England are currently occupied by patients with Covid or flu. In certain areas, such as Shropshire and Gloucestershire, people are being advised to only visit A&E in extreme circumstances.

In recent days, a number of hospitals have declared critical incidents, indicating that they are unable to function as normal due to the high levels of pressure. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has said that the NHS is experiencing the worst winter on record for A&E waiting times.

Pressure from the opposition

The situation has prompted criticism from the Labour party and calls from the Liberal Democrats for Parliament to be recalled early.

Labour’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, has accused the government of “actively deterring” people from visiting A&E because the departments are overwhelmed. He called it “completely inexplicable” that no government ministers have “raised their head or shown their face” to explain what is being done to address the crisis.

Liberal Democrat MP, Daisy Cooper, has called on Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, to declare a major incident warning that “the country will never forgive the government if they refuse to recall Parliament”. MPs are due to return to Westminster on Monday following their Christmas break.

The chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, has called on the government to “step up and take immediate action”. Professor Phil Banfield argued that the survival of the NHS is on a “knife edge” and claimed that patients are needlessly dying as a result of political choices.

NHS England’s chief strategy officer, Chris Hopson, has urged caution when it comes to claims that people are dying as a result of issues within the health service, warning against “jumping to conclusions about excess mortality rates and their cause without a really full and detailed look at the evidence”.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued advice urging people to stay home if they are unwell and to wear masks if they have to go out, in light of rising cases of flu, Covid, and strep A. Professor Susan Hopkins, the UKHSA’s chief medical adviser, has also asked parents to keep children off school if they are unwell and have a fever.

Government response

Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, has acknowledged that staff are under “tremendous pressure”, but has argued that the government has provided additional resources to the NHS and social care to help services cope.

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care has also said that the government had provided the NHS with up to £14.1bn in additional funding over the next two years and had given an extra £500m to speed up hospital discharges and free up beds. The spokesperson added that the government had also awarded a 9.3 percent pay rise to the lowest earners in the NHS last year and that the health secretary and ministers had met with unions several times to discuss how to improve the working lives of NHS staff.

Final thought

As no progress has been made on nurse and ambulance strikes, all eyes are on the Government to alleviate pressure on health and social care services. The influx of winter viruses tends to add pressure at this time of year, but given the record breaking backlog after austerity measures and the pandemic – the NHS is at breaking point.

Time will tell on the Government’s course of action, but with fiscal tightening for the foreseeable future it seems the NHS will have to endure these conditions for now.

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