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THE NHS slipped deeper into crisis today as six Yorkshire hospitals told injured people to stay away from their A&E departments unless their lives are in danger.
And bosses at a major ambulance trust have urged the public not to dial 999 unless they face “a life-threatening or serious emergency.”
The “stay away from A&E” call was issued by the West Yorkshire Association of Acute Trusts, representing emergency departments at six hospitals in West and North Yorkshire, as patients are facing delays of up to 12 hours.
More than 2.5 million people in towns and cities including Leeds and Bradford are covered by the hospitals.
The ambulance crisis hit South Central Ambulance Service, which serves seven million people in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Sussex and Surrey.
The ambulance trust declared a critical incident, indicating that it was approaching breaking point.
Responding to the Yorkshire A&E crisis, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned the pressure was affecting hospitals across the country and said patients will be in danger.
RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said: “This is what happens when government fails to invest properly in the NHS and tens of thousands of nursing vacancies go unfilled for years.
“The pressures in Yorkshire and across the country show little sign of relenting.”
She said that without investment, “incidents like this risk becoming more regular and patient safety is compromised.”
Unison union’s deputy head of health Helga Pile said: “Massive understaffing, sickness absence and years of underfunding mean disruption is likely to erupt for some time to come.”
And GMB officer for the NHS Ben Kirkham said: “Staff morale in the NHS is at an all-time low, with workers buckling under the pressure.
“The two-year pandemic has left the service on its knees and workers need help and support now, not to be repeatedly kicked when they are down by a government hell-bent on privatising the NHS and starving it of desperately needed cash funds.”
He called for emergency funding to fill vacancies. The NHS has 90,000 staff vacancies, including 50,000 nurses.
Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr Tony Sullivan said: “It’s come to this. The government has failed us and failed the NHS.
“The pandemic lockdown message ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS’ was bad enough. But NHS hospitals in crisis forced to tell the public to stay at home, don’t go to an A&E unless your life is in danger, is shocking.
“The government is bankrupt and a danger to our very lives.”
Dr Sullivan called for £20 billion investment.
Labour’s shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne MP said: “A decade of Conservative underinvestment left the NHS unprepared to cope with the current pressures, so patients are going without the care they need.
“Instead of lowering waiting times, the government’s answer is to lower standards for patients.
“With today’s tax rise, we’re paying more but getting less under the Conservatives.”
Announcing the ambulance emergency today, South Central Ambulance Service director of operations Mark Ainsworth said: “We declared a critical incident in the early hours due to extreme pressures across our services.”
He said priority was being given to “those patients with life-threatening injuries and illnesses.”
Dr Andrew Lockey, emergency medicine consultant with Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It’s really important that people only come to an accident and emergency department if they really need to.”
He said staff faced extra pressure “for treating patients with serious and life-threatening conditions.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS staff remain under significant pressure on many fronts as they deal with high numbers of ambulance call outs, increasing numbers of people in hospital with covid-19 while the latest weekly figures also show a spike in the number of staff off sick due to the virus.
“Despite this, NHS teams across the country are working hard to deliver as much routine care as possible as well as rolling out the spring booster programme, so if you have a health concern, please come forward for the care you need – and if invited get your vaccine at the earliest opportunity.”
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