Guest column: Worst winter ever for our battered NHS

Sir Kevin Barron MP
Sir Kevin Barron MP

Patients and staff are currently experiencing the worst NHS winter crisis on record.

So far this winter, more than 75,000 patients have waited in the back of ambulances for more 30 minutes, bed occupancy has averaged at a staggering 93.5 per cent and there have been 150 diverts from A&E departments in England.

Yet all Prime Minister Theresa May has offered in response is what I feel is a half-hearted apology and, in my opinion, an unfounded claim that the NHS is ‘better prepared’ for winter than ever before.

This week in Parliament, Labour called on Theresa May to provide urgent funding to tackle the winter crisis and ensure cancelled operations are rescheduled as soon as possible.

Patients and staff are facing an appalling and entirely predictable winter crisis.

Eight years of severe under-funding has left our NHS teetering on the brink of collapse, leaving thousands of patients languishing in the back of ambulances and being diverted from A&E departments nationwide.

Labour has warned repeatedly that the NHS funding squeeze imposed by the Government is damaging standards of patient care.

It’s why we offered record levels of funding for the NHS in our manifesto and guaranteed the main four-hour A&E target would finally be met again consistently.

Worryingly, with the ‘flu season now underway, pressures on intensive care units are only set to increase.

According to the latest data from Public Health England, the number of people hospitalised by ‘flu has tripled in a week.

Accordingly, John Appleby, chief economist and director of research at the Nuffield Trust, said last week: “The sobering reality is that winter for the NHS has hardly started.”

In my view Theresa May has failed to allocate sufficient winter funding to tackle the expected spike in demand during the coldest period of the year.

The Chancellor announced winter pressures funding in the Budget on November 22 and yet trusts weren’t informed of their allocations until a month later.

In the words of NHS providers, this money came ‘very late to be used to maximum effect’.

Instead of reshuffling her Government and offering fancier titles to her Secretary of State, Theresa May must get an urgent grip of this escalating crisis. The Prime Minister must finally give the NHS the support and resources it urgently needs and explain what she’s going to do to make sure patients and their families never suffer a winter crisis like this ever again.