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NHS Crisis Mounting, Train Strikes Continue, Childcare Reforms Row Brewing

Patients are waiting hours for beds and ambulances are queuing up outside A&Es (Alamy) 

6 min read

The chief executive of the NHS Confederation has warned that "further critical incidents” in the health service are likely to define the next three months as pressure on the NHS across the country continues to grow.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and senior ministers are coming under increasing pressure to address the concerns, after numerous trusts across the country have declared critical incidents in the days since Christmas, with patients waiting hours for beds and ambulances queuing up outside A&Es. 

"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," NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said.

“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.”

Adults and children suffering from winter bugs have been advised to stay at home in order to curb the spread of illness and relieve pressure on hospitals. 

Professor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser at the UK Health Security Agency told parents and carers that “if your child is unwell and has a fever, they should stay home from school or nursery until they feel better and the fever has resolved”. 

She added: “Adults should also try to stay home when unwell and if you do have to go out, wear a face covering.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper agreed that it was “sensible” to wear a mask in these circumstances. 

“That’s why we have the Health Security Agency, to provide sensible health advice to the public,” he told BBC Breakfast this morning. 

Rail strikes continue as people head back to work

rail picket line sign
RMT members are walking out in the first of two strikes this week (Alamy)

The Transport Secretary has told union leaders to get “off the picket line and back round the negotiating table”, as passengers face another week of disruption due to rail strikes.

The RMT began its first of two 48 hour walk outs this week on Tuesday morning, with services reduced significantly across the country. 

Mark Harper told BBC Breakfast: "I made sure there was a new and improved offer that went to the trade unions, and indeed two of the trade unions on Network Rail have settled the dispute and accepted the offer.

"The RMT sadly decided to reject it and are continuing with strikes.

"I would much rather they got off the picket line and got back round the negotiating table to hammer out a deal on reform and pay with the employers."

Head of the RMT union Mick Lynch told Good Morning Britain that private companies that run the railway have continued making profits during the pandemic and strikes. 

“We’ve got a perverse system where we’re going to face rail fare increases coming up right now of nearly six per cent and our members haven’t had a pay rise,” he said.

Childcare reforms delayed, according to reports

Rishi Sunak has reportedly shelved plans for major changes to the childcare system, pushing back reforms that were hinted at by his predecessor Liz Truss. 

According to The Telegraph, Sunak has postponed indefinitely any changes to the system. Truss is understood to have been considering increasing free childcare hours per week, and making changes to care ratios, as part of her plans to encourage a reduction in childcare costs.

Any changes are now expected to be smaller, the paper reports. 

The changes could risk Sunak sparking a row with his own backbenches. Siobhan Baillie, MP for Stroud, tweeted following the reports to say it is something No 10 "need to knock on the head quickly". 

"Parents, childcare providers and employers need the complex and expensive childcare system reformed," she added. 

Former Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom has described supporting families as “a major battleground issue for the next election.” 

She told PoliticsHome that she wants “every Conservative to have on their pledge cards ‘we have delivered the best start for life programme", and recognised that the party has an issue attracting younger voters at the moment. 

Last month, PoliticsHome reported about the Tories’ issues keeping younger voters on side ahead of the next election, with childcare topping the priority lists for many questioned, alongside policies that would make the housing market more accessible. 

Irish leader suggests Brexit protocol is "little strict"

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants to find a solution to the questions surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol (Alamy)

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said “we’ve all made mistakes in the handling of Brexit” as he suggested the Northern Ireland protocol was “perhaps” a “little bit too strict”. 

Varadkar became the Irish leader for the second time last month, and has said he is looking forward to travelling north of the border to “find a solution” as discussions over the protocol continue on both sides of the Brexit divide. 

Varadkar said: "I'm sure we've all made mistakes in the handling of Brexit.

"There was no road map, no manual, it wasn't something that we expected would happen and we've all done our best to deal with it."

Power sharing in Northern Ireland is currently uncertain as the Democratic Unionist Party are boycotting their seats in Stormont in protest over the protocol and trading agreements in its current form.

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