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by Ceren Sagir
Deputy News Editor
HOSPITALS are struggling to deliver urgent care with record numbers of people waiting to start their treatment amid the pandemic due to “chronic underfunding” of the NHS, professionals have warned.
A total of 4.46 million people were waiting to start hospital treatment in England at the end of November 2020, the highest number since records began, official figures revealed today.
This compares with 4.42 million in November 2019 and 4.45 million in October that year — the previous highest number in the data which goes back to August 2007.
Royal College of Surgeons England president Professor Neil Mortensen said the figures “show the calamitous impact of Covid-19” on wait times for operations.
Mr Mortensen also warned that a “huge hidden waiting list” was building up under lockdown.
“When we eventually emerge from this crisis, we will need sustained investment to treat all those who have been waiting patiently for treatment,” he added.
GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “Chronic underfunding of the NHS since the Conservatives came to power in 2010 left our health service unprepared and unable to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Underpaid and overworked staff have been left to carry on as if business as usual.
“The NHS was woefully understaffed at the start of the crisis — with an estimated 100,000 vacancies.”
Ms Harrison said workers “have been failed throughout the pandemic on all levels” and were left “exposed and vulnerable, succumbing to the virus,” increasing vacancies further.
She called for better support for staff including a pay rise, higher-level PPE and mental health support.
“NHS services will never be able to operate ‘normally’ without the very workers we all rely on,” she warned.
Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr Tony O’Sullivan said that the delayed treatments “represent pain, misery and death for millions, and highlight the very real impact of cuts and neglect on the pandemic response.”
He warned that despite assurances from PM Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock cancer treatment would not be compromised, urgent care was being postponed “due to an NHS on the brink.”
“The main investment the government has made has been to contracts held by its avaricious cronies,” Dr O’Sullivan said.
“The government still displays zero understanding and zero care about how a Zero Covid public health strategy would have saved the vast majority of lives and allowed the NHS to cope.
“These thousands of deaths, and the misery they bring, is on them.”
Labour shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It is vital that we now have a Herculean effort to roll out at least two million vaccines a week, with NHS staff vaccinations completed in the next week, to ease pressure on our NHS.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the government would continue to support the NHS “in every way possible.”
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