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Government Dismisses NHS Crisis Claims Insisting Health Service Has Enough Money

Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street (Alamy)

4 min read

Rishi Sunak will not say whether he believes the NHS is in crisis despite mounting pressure on the government to tackle chaotic scenes in hospitals, a growing number of which have declared critical incidents.

The Prime Minister's spokesperson on Monday acknowledged that the health service was facing an "unprecedented challenge" amid widespread reports of overcrowded A&E departments, patients waiting hours and even days for treatment, and cases of oxygen running out. 

They added that it would be "very difficult" for a number of people to get access to NHS treatment in the coming weeks, "because of some of these huge challenges that the pandemic in particular has forced upon us".

But they refused to describe the service as being in "crisis" when challenged by reporters this morning, and insisted that ministers had been "up front with the public long advance" that the health service would come under severe pressure this winter. 

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, has warned there will likely be further cases of hospital trusts declaring critical incidents in the next three months, as surging numbers of flu and Covid cases pile pressure on the health service at a time of staff shortages and strikes over pay and working conditions. 

"It seems likely that the next three months will be defined by further critical incidents needing to be declared and the quality of care being compromised," said Taylor. Over a dozen trusts and ambulance services have declared critical incidents in the past few days. 

“Some of our members have said their ward staffing numbers are now below minimum levels as they work hard to set up more escalation spaces to support arrivals from ambulances, that they have had instances where their oxygen cylinders have ran out temporarily, and that some of their patients have waited over two days for a bed," Taylor added.

The president of the Society for Acute Medicine, Dr Tim Cooksley, and the president of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh, Professor Andrew Elder, said in a joint statement they had “never been more concerned about standards of acute medical care across hospitals in the UK than we are now”.

Sunak's spokesperson insisted the government was giving the NHS the money it needed, however, stressing the health service had received "billions of pounds of additional funding".

"We are confident we are providing the NHS with the funding it needs, as we did throughout the pandemic, to deal with these issues," they said.

"We have been up front with the public long in advance of this winter that because of the pandemic and the pressures it has placed on the backlog of cases, this will be an extremely challenging winter. That is what we are seeing.

"We remain thankful to frontline NHS and care staff who are providing this level of care to the public in a challenging time."

Stephen Barclay, the secretary of state for health and social care, is expected to visit a hospital this week as ministers come under growing pressure to take further action to help the health service.

A report by The Sunday Times over the weekend catalogued numerous examples of delays facing patients at NHS hospitals, including a person waiting more than 30 hours in an ambulance outside Shrewsbury's Prince Royal Hospital, and a patient in York who waited in A&E for a bed for over 40 hours.

Historic strikes by nurses and ambulance workers were held at the end of last year, and a fresh wave of walkouts in the coming months, which could also include junior doctors, is likely to exacerbate delays in care. The government has refused to negotiate with unions who say the NHS pay review body of a two per cent pay rise cap amounts to a real-terms pay cut when record high inflation is taken into account. 

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is calling for Sunak to give nurses a 19 per cent pay rise, which it says would make up for years of real-term pay cuts. 

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