Jeremy Hunt has been accused of “hiding” from the public eye after the British Red Cross was called in to deal with a “humanitarian crisis” in overstretched NHS hospitals.
At the time of publication the Health Secretary had issued no comment on the unfolding health service crisis, following calls by the charity for an emergency cash injection to deal with unprecedented pressures on the under-funded health service.
When contacted by The Independent on Saturday the Department of Health said it was leaving it to NHS England, a non-departmental public body that oversees the NHS day-to-day, to comment on the response to the unfolding winter crisis.
The last press release issued on the Department of Health’s website dates from last year, and refers to the New Year’s Honours list. The Government and Mr Hunt’s Department would have to sanction any additional spending on the NHS as requested by the British Red Cross.
The Liberal Democrats’ shadow health secretary Norman Lamb said Mr Hunt should “stop hiding” while Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said the Mr Hunt was “refusing to acknowledge” the seriousness of the situation.
“This Government should be ashamed. It ignored calls for extra cash to support health and care services through the winter, and now it is patients who are paying the price,” Mr Lamb said.
“Jeremy Hunt must stop hiding and announce immediate measures to alleviate this crisis, including emergency funding to plug gaps across services that are putting patient safety at risk.
“The truth is that the Prime Minister and Chancellor are failing to provide the investment needed to deliver an effective, modern health and care system.
“The Government must also finally agree to work cross-party to secure the future of the NHS and social care in our country, so we don’t keep just going from crisis to crisis but find a long-term and sustainable settlement.”
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders told The Independent: “For the Health Secretary to remain silent as this crisis unfolds represents either a complete denial of reality or utter embarrassment that this has happened on his watch.
“Jeremy Hunt cannot say that he wasn’t warned that this crisis was coming. Every major health organisation has been warning for months that the NHS was heading for disaster unless it got more funding.
“He has decided to ignore those warnings and we are now seeing a meltdown in our NHS that he is refusing to acknowledge. Patients, the staff and the public deserve better.
“Jeremy Hunt should urgently come up with a plan and resources to match to end the crisis.”
British Red Cross Land Rovers have been deployed to the UK’s streets to help ferry patients home from overstretched hospitals and free up beds.
Figures show overstretched A&E departments shut their doors to patients more than 140 times in December, while a third of NHS trusts in England have issued alerts that they are overstretched, according to the Nuffield Trust.
British Red Cross chief executive, Mike Adamson, said extra cash was needed to make the system sustainable.
“The British Red Cross is on the front line, responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country,” he warned.
“We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much needed beds.”
NHS England today played down the comparison to a “humanitarian crisis”. Keith Willett, the director of acute care, said that “on the international scale of a humanitarian crisis, I do not think the NHS is at that point”.
An NHS England spokesman said: “Plans remain in place to deal with additional demands during the winter period, and the public can still play their part using local pharmacy and NHS 111 for medical advice, alongside other services.”
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