Row as health service is put on 'red alert'

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The Independent Online

Health Secretary Alan Milburn put the NHS on red alert today, as he ordered all regions to have emergency plans in place for dealing with the fuel crisis.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn put the NHS on red alert today, as he ordered all regions to have emergency plans in place for dealing with the fuel crisis.

But the Department of Health was accused of exaggerating the crisis as hospitals and the blood service denied they were experiencing the severe problems claimed in official press releases.

And the Tories accused the Government of exploiting the situation and attempting to dodge the blame for the crisis.

Mr Milburn has instructed local NHS services to put into place emergency planning procedures normally used for coping with major incidents and winter pressures.

All parts of the NHS were instructed to have contingency plans for dealing with emergencies only if the situation did not improve.

And the Department of Health issued a regional breakdown of the worst affected areas.

Mr Milburn said: "Those involved in this blockade need to know the very serious effect their actions are having on the NHS.

"Patients are unable to get to hospital. Operations are being cancelled. Drugs, food and medical supplies are now running short.

"The NHS is increasingly unable to do its job properly."

But DoH claims in a press release were immediately denied by the National Blood Service.

The department claimed that central blood stocks could only last for another four days and that there were problems with distributing supplies in some areas like Southampton, Yorkshire and the north of England.

But a spokeswoman for the service said: "We do have supplies for another four or five days but we are collecting new stocks all the time.

"There is no problem with distribution. This is scaremongering and it is causing unrest.

"People are saying that they are being told that blood donation centres have closed when they have not. It is outrageous."

Barts Hospital in London, Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire and Birmingham Womens' Hospital all denied statements made in a DoH press release yesterday about problems they were experiencing.

The Government said today that Hereford, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Staffordshire had already declared the crisis a "major incident" and that food supplies were now running short in some hospitals.

It said the Royal Hull Hospital had no stitches for use in operations and that hospitals in Portsmouth were running short of drugs.

But the hospital, which has actually merged and is now called the Hull and East Yorkshire Hospital, denied this was the case.

A spokeswoman said: "We are monitoring the situation but we have not run out of anything and we have stocks of sutures."

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "Unfortunately it seems the last thing we can expect to get from the Department of Health is the truth.

"The Government is all to keen to blame other people for its own incompetence and exploit this situation for its own ends."

A rural GP in Northants is planning to conduct her house calls on horseback when her petrol supplies run out.

This afternoon the director of public health for the south west of England arrived at Avonmouth dock to explain to demonstrators the problems fuel shortages were causing the NHS.

Dr Gabriel Scally said hospitals across the region had been hit hard with some having to cancel surgery and others stopping out patients coming in.

He said to the protesters: "In several places across the region staff are having enormous difficulties particularly in some of the more isolated parts like Cornwall.

"And also some of our places are running very short of supplies like laundry which is so vital for the health of these patients."