Consultants and nurses have warned that the NHS has been almost unable to cope with a rise in patients over the holiday period. The strain has been increased by the seasonal rise in elderly people with chest conditions and flu victims, particularly in the north-west of England, where staff have been badly hit by illness.
Patients are often waiting several hours on trolleys before being transferred to hospital beds, while ambulance calls in Liverpool and Manchester have increased from an average of 500 to 600 a day, to 1,000. Routine operations are already being cancelled to cope with the rise in admissions, according to the British Medical Association, which has criticised the Government for being "too optimistic" over the NHS's ability to deal with the crisis.
"If we have a significant expansion in numbers because of a flu epidemic then we are going to be in trouble," said Peter Hawker, chairman of the BMA's Consultants and Specialists Committee. "We are reaping the whirlwind of the drive for what was called greater efficiency. I think that has gone too far."
Mr Dobson said the NHS was coping very well, although he admitted that some parts of the health service were under pressure, with treatment being delayed. Staff were "working their guts out", he said, trying to cope and the health service was managing "better than it has in the past".Reuse content