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Jonathan Ashworth MP: Theresa May should be ashamed of the NHS crisis Downing Street has created

4 min read

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth says hospital corridors are now routinely being used as wards as the Government starves the NHS of cash.

Yesterday we learnt that January was the worst ever month for patients attending major A&E Departments.

Just 77.1% of patients were seen within 4 hours in Type 1 A&E Departments, significantly below the 95% target.

The Government has consistently failed to meet this target since July 2015- that’s an unprecedented 30 months in a row.

And the NHS top brass have told patients this crucial target won’t be hit until March 2019, breaking Jeremy Hunt’s flagship promise to meet the target this calendar year.

The underfunding of our NHS is now so severe we’re witnessing a winter crisis like never before.

Last month, for the first time ever, over 1,000 patients spent over 12 hours on trolleys in A&E. That’s a record for any single month, and amounts to a staggering 6035% increase compared with January 2011.

And it means on Theresa May’s watch hospitals corridors have become the new emergency wards.

On the 70th anniversary of the NHS, Theresa May should be utterly ashamed.

Elsewhere, almost 140,000 patients have waited over 30 minutes in the back of ambulances this winter, whilst nearly 30,000 people have waited over one hour in freezing conditions. This is despite NHS bosses instructing Trusts to transfer patients within 15 minutes.

In addition, ambulances have been diverted from Emergency Departments on 287 occasions. A&E diverts, where a hospital refuses emergency patients, should only happen as a last resort since delayed treatment poses a substantial risk to patient safety.

And many of England’s hospitals are now regularly running 10% above safe bed occupancy rates, meaning there is an increased risk of infections like MRSA or C difficile spreading.

Beyond the statistics, numerous horrific personal stories have emerged.

Patients have been photographed lying on floors, languishing in the back of ambulances and stuck on trolleys in hospital corridors for hours and hours on end.

A&E consultants have decried conditions as akin to “disaster zones” with wards “bursting at the seams”, whilst others have apologised for “third world” conditions and pleaded on social media for extra support staff.

And yet, instead of taking action, or even apologising, Jeremy Hunt glibly told a national broadcaster yesterday that our hardworking NHS staff, who everyday go the extra mile for patients,‘when they signed up to go into medicine, they knew there would be pressurised moments.”

This follows the Prime Minister’s typically insensitive remark last month that the unprecedented cancellation of thousands of operations was ‘part of the plan’ for the NHS and that ‘nothing is perfect’. Tell that to nearly 4 million people on the waiting list, including the 445,360 patients currently waiting longer than 18 weeks in pain and anxiety for an operation.

It is exactly this attitude, nothing short of outright denial, which is holding back the Government from taking the urgent action which patients, staff, healthcare leaders and MPs from across the House have been demanding for months. 

Back in September, I pleaded with the Government to invest an additional £500 million to ease pressures but my calls fell on deaf ears.

Theresa May dithered and didn’t allow Trusts to spend the little money she finally allocated until late December. That’s not a serious plan for the winter, it’s more like a wind and a prayer.

The truth is since 2010 the NHS has experienced the biggest financial squeeze in its history. Staffing vacancies have reached a staggering 100,000, the maintenance backlog has reached over £5.5bn and hospitals are already £1.5bn in the red after the first six months of the financial year.

We’ve demanded an extra £5 billion for the NHS to put the service on a sustainable long term footing. Again ministers respond by sticking their fingers in their ears refusing to accept that the NHS is desperately starved of cash.

The consequence is a crisis all year round. A crisis manufactured in Downing Street and played out in overstretched and understaffed hospitals right across the country.

Theresa May has consistently ignored the pleas of patients and our heroic NHS staff this winter. What more will it take for the Prime Minister to listen?

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