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A&E delays causing 500 deaths a week

Top medic slams 'political choice', warning deadly situation is not short-term

INTOLERABLE and unsustainable pressure on the austerity-hit NHS is leading to delays in emergency care which are killing up to 500 people every week, medics warned today.

The dramatic intervention came after more than a dozen health trusts and ambulance services declared critical incidents over the festive period following years of cuts to services and real-terms staff pay. 

British Medical Association (BMA) council chairman Professor Phil Banfield hit out at the Tory government as he offered a stark warning about the scale of the crisis, which has already provoked national strike action.

“The current situation in the NHS is intolerable and unsustainable, both for our patients and hard-working staff,” he said.

“The BMA has repeatedly invited the government to sit down and talk about the pressures on our health service, but [ministers’] silence is deafening.”

Professor Banfield said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was being “disingenuous” when pledging to “back the NHS” in his New Year message, while Health Secretary Steve Barclay is “failing to discuss solutions” to the crisis.

He urged Downing Street to “step up and take immediate action.”

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine stressed that about 300 to 500 people were dying each week as a result of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care, as it warned against any attempt to discredit the figure.

Some health bosses questioned the figures, with NHS England chief strategy officer Chris Hopson claiming not to recognise the numbers.

“We need to be very careful about jumping to conclusions about excess mortality numbers and their cause without a full and detailed look at the evidence,” he told BBC Radio 4. 

But the college’s vice-president Ian Higginson told the same channel: “What we’ve been hearing is that the current problems are all due to Covid or flu, or that this is complex, you mustn’t jump to conclusions — all that sort of stuff.

“If you’re at the front line, you know that this is a longstanding problem. This isn’t a short-term thing.

“It’s the sort of things we’re seeing happen every winter, and it still seems to come as a surprise to the NHS.”

He stressed that his organisation’s figures on deaths caused by delays are more than a “guesstimate.

“These are real figures and I worry that we’re going to hear attempts to spin and manipulate this data.”

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales become the latest to declare a critical incident today as it tackled an “unprecedented” number of patients needing emergency care in its hospitals.

The trust cancelled all planned procedures and appointments for tomorrow, except for those deemed most urgent.

Last week, one in five ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed over to A&E teams, and in November, 37,837 patients faced a delay of more than 12 hours, according to NHS England figures – an increase of almost 335 per cent on the same month in 2021.

Education minister Robert Halfon insisted that the PM is treating the critical situation as a “top priority by putting in a lot of funding and doing everything possible.”

But Prof Banfield urged ministers to “deliver on their obligations,” adding: “It is just not true that the cost of resolving this mess is unaffordable. 

“This is a political choice and patients are dying unnecessarily because of that choice.”

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