Medics warn that the NHS crisis is 'intolerable' and 'unsustainable'

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Medics warn that the NHS crisis is 'intolerable' Future Publishing - Getty Images

As ever-growing numbers of medics describe the NHS as being in 'crisis,' pressure is increasing on the government to respond to what is being described as an 'unsustainable' and 'intolerable' situation.

Hospitals are currently experiencing a drastic uptick in demand, with an already strained system thought to be being put under extra stress due to rates of winter illnesses such as flu and Covid-19.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme, Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said it was 'inexplicable' that ministers have not 'raised their head or shown their face to say exactly what they are doing to grip this crisis.'

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And last night, the MP Tweeted: 'The NHS is in the depths of its worst-ever crisis. [Prime Minister Rishi] Sunak and [Health and Social Care Secretary Steve] Barclay are nowhere to be seen. It’s a total disgrace.'

What is happening in the NHS?

The ramifications of this pressure have the potential to be severe. About 500 people a week could be dying each week due to delays in emergency care, Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said last week. His comments came as over a dozen NHS trusts declared 'critical incidents,' indicating that they can no longer function as normal due to overwhelming pressure.

Many cited the struggle to cope with the volume of people attending A&E, calling 999, accessing GP services and calling NHS 111 as the reason for the move.

When a NHS trust declares a 'critical incident', it can bring in measures including as cancelling training so staff can be redeployed, bringing in more help from third parties and stop taking bookings for non-emergency transport.

This comes at the same time as more medical staff prepare to strike over pay and conditions. Ambulance staff are ready to walk out on 11 and 23 January, with nurses set to do so on 18 and 19 January.

What does The British Medical Association say?

Responding to the comments made by Dr Boyle, The British Medical Association's Professor Phil Banfield, chair of BMA council, said: 'The current situation in the NHS is intolerable and unsustainable, both for our patients and the hard-working staff desperately trying to keep up with incredibly high levels of demand.'

He stated that the current state of affairs is: 'A political choice', and that patients are 'dying unnecessarily because of that choice.'

'Instead of criticising frontline doctors, nurses and paramedics for wanting to be valued and given the facilities to provide treatment and care,' he added, 'the Government should deliver on its obligations to the public. It is just not true that the cost of resolving this mess cannot be afforded by this country. This is a political choice and patients are dying unnecessarily because of that choice.

'The Government must step up and take immediate action. Without intervention, waiting lists will continue to grow, patients will continue to suffer, and staff will continue to leave. The future of the NHS is balanced on a knife-edge; it is solely within Government’s gift to pull this back from the brink.'

What else is being said?

In a now-viral Twitter thread, consultant gastroenterologist Dr Peter Neville gave his opinion on the creep of changes that has resulted in the current crisis.

'Over at least the past 15 years, we have seen a relentless increase in demand, both in primary care and in hospital care. This has been absolutely predictable by social statisticians for decades and is based on the fact that our elderly are surviving much longer,' he wrote.

'Over this period NHS funding has, broadly speaking, risen about 1-2% over inflation. If NHS funding increases with inflation yet demand increases, then clearly spend per person will drop. Demand has increased considerably above 2%, which is why the NHS is failing to manage it.'

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He also detailed how he believes cuts to local council funding have resulted in elderly people being kept in hospital longer than they need to be. Because a hospital cannot discharge a patient who needs a care package, any delay to this provision being granted can result in a person waiting in hospital, when they are ready to be discharged.

'About 33% of hospital beds are filled with "fit for discharge" patients. UK hospitals can do nothing about this. We are effectively working on 66% capacity. Which is one of the key reasons why A&E is rammed,' Dr Neville detailed. Analysis from the Guardian published in November 2022 found that 'as many as one in three hospital beds in parts of England are occupied by patients who are well enough to be discharged.'

What does the government say?

Speaking to the BBC, a Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'NHS staff do an incredible job and we recognise the pressures the NHS is facing following the impact of the pandemic.

'That's why we've backed the NHS and social care with up to £14.1bn additional funding over the next two years and this winter we have provided an extra £500m to speed up hospital discharge and free up beds. We also awarded a 9.3% pay rise to the lowest earners in the NHS last year.

'The health secretary and ministers have met with unions several times and have been clear their door remains open to further discuss how we can work together to improve the working lives of NHS staff.'

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