NHS crisis: Corbyn calls on May to face urgent Commons questions
Lib Dems demand emergency health funding as NHS England boss disputes Red Cross claim of a humanitarian crisis
Ambulances outside an accident and emergency ward
Ambulances outside an accident and emergency ward. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Chris Johnston and agencies
Saturday 7 January 2017 16.20 GMT
First published on Saturday 7 January 2017 13.23 GMT
Jeremy Corbyn has called on Theresa May to attend the House of Commons on Monday to face urgent questions over the NHS, after claims the health service is facing a “humanitarian crisis”.
The Labour leader called on the prime minister to explain how the government will solve the problems, after the British Red Cross said it had been called in to help the NHS in England deal with heightened demand this winter.
In a series of tweets, Corbyn said: “The crisis in our NHS is unprecedented. People are lying on trolleys in corridors waiting to be seen.
“Hospitals have had to close their doors, unable to admit patients. The health service is at breaking point. But this crisis isn’t due to an outbreak of disease. It’s a crisis made in Downing St by this government – a crisis we warned them about.”
A statement added: “I am demanding that the prime minister comes to the House of Commons on Monday and sets out to the British people how she plans to fix her failure on the NHS.”
The intervention came after it emerged on Friday that two patients had died on trolleys in the A&E department of Worcestershire Royal hospital in the past week.
The former health minister Norman Lamb has called on Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, to announce emergency funding to address the crisis.
The Liberal Democrat MP said: “This government should be ashamed. It ignored calls for extra cash to support health and care services through the winter, and now it is patients who are paying the price.”
'It was manic': patients describe meltdown at Worcestershire hospital
Keith Willett, director of acute care for NHS England, rejected the Red Cross’s claim of a humanitarian crisis.
He said the NHS had worked with the Red Cross over recent winters. “But on the international scale of a humanitarian crisis, I do not think the NHS is at that point,” he said.
“Clearly, demand is at the highest level ever, but also our planning is probably more comprehensive than it has ever been. In many ways this is a level of pressure we have not seen before and the workload that the NHS is being asked to shoulder in terms of medical treatment and personal care is very high,” Willett said.
“There are several reasons for that. There is the winter and many more people have breathing and heart problems, but we know it is also very difficult at the moment and social care and community services are not able to react fast enough to free up beds to keep up the flow through hospitals.”
He said the biggest problem was moving patients through the hospital. “Many commentators have said if there is more money to be had then it should be directed at social care in the community first, and that will help the NHS more than anything else at the moment.”
Figures show A&E departments shut their doors to patients more than 140 times in December. On Friday a national body said a third of health trusts in England issued alerts last month saying they needed urgent help, and seven said they were unable to provide comprehensive care.
Worcestershire Royal opened an investigation on Friday after the deaths of two patients who had been waiting on trolleys in corridors for many hours. It is believed that a woman died of a heart attack after waiting for 35 hours on a trolley in a corridor, and a man suffered an aneurysm while on a trolley.
It is believed that another patient was found hanged on a ward at the same hospital. Worcester Royal said it was under serious pressure partly as a result of the extra strain hospitals face during winter. The deaths are said to have happened between New Year’s Day and 3 January.
I'm a junior doctor in the NHS, and I'm terrified for this winter
Separately, it was disclosed that the London ambulance service suffered a computer blackout on New Year’s Eve that forced call handlers to revert to pen and paper on the busiest night of the year.
Patients who visited Worcestershire Royal hospital this week told the Guardian of long waits in A&E, corridors lined with patients, and overstretched staff doing their best to cope.
Dr Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “We are asking NHS staff to provide a world-class service, but with third-world levels of staffing and third-world levels of beds. That so many other hospitals in England are facing the same pressures as the one in Worcester means that other fatalities could occur. I would suggest that the same thing could happen in other hospitals, because lots of hospitals are under the same pressures.”
Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said figures it obtained from hospitals across the UK showed some were treating as few as 50%-60% of A&E patients within four hours – far below the 95% target.