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NHS winter crisis: More than 1 million patients face long waits in A&E, doctors warn

Medical trade union warns 297,000 patients could be left waiting on trolleys in hospitals

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 07 November 2019 07:34 GMT
The British Medical Association has called for the government to increase NHS spending by 4.1 per cent a year
The British Medical Association has called for the government to increase NHS spending by 4.1 per cent a year (Getty)

The NHS may be about to experience its worst ever winter crisis as more than 1 million NHS patients could face long waits in emergency departments, doctors’ leaders have warned.

Almost 300,000 patients could also be left waiting on trolleys, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.

Using data from last year, the BMA has extrapolated a best case and worst-case scenario for the NHS and estimated the service will struggle to meet demand from patients waiting to be seen in A&E.

Ministers are concerned long NHS waits could have an impact on the general election with Matt Hancock, the health secretary, reported to be meeting NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens once a week and No 10 demanding constant updates on how the system is performing.

The union’s warning comes after many hospitals reported a difficult summer with some seeing record-breaking attendances in A&E during July.

The BMA said this could mean its dire predictions would turn out to be optimistic, after its estimate on four-hour trolley waits in the summer was exceeded by 13,000, hitting a total of 180,000 patients waiting beyond four hours.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “Enough is enough. Right across the health service, trusts and GP practices will be bracing themselves for what looks set to be the worst winter the NHS has ever endured.

“Patients should not fear needing hospital care or being able to see their GP, nor should they have to accept that they may spend hours on a trolley in an emergency department, waiting to be treated.”

He added: “Similarly, staff working in hospitals and GP practices across the country should not be facing the daunting prospect of having to care for those patients in these relentlessly pressurised environments. This perfect storm is brewing alongside the upcoming general election and politicians should be paying close attention to the fallout of failure to invest in and support our health service for more than a decade.”

The BMA, which represents more than 180,000 UK doctors, called for the government to increase NHS spending by at least 4.1 per cent a year to put the service on a sustainable footing.

It also demanded the Treasury’s complex pension-tax rules, which have been blamed for forcing some senior doctors to reduce their hours, be scrapped and it backed calls for a second referendum on Brexit and legislation for mandatory safe staffing levels.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said government ministers should apologise for the misery patients would face waiting for treatment. He added: “Already waiting lists are at 4.4 million and in the last year, shamefully over 600,000 patients languished on trolleys in corridors not able to get a bed after Tory bed cuts of over 15,000.

“With experts predicting we are heading into the one of the worst winters ever, our NHS needs real change.”

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