NHS winter crisis is ahead warns Dr Boyle

Junior doctors on the picket line at Homerton Hospital earlier this year

SPEAKING ahead of the three-day strike of tens of thousands of NHS Junior Doctors which begins at 7am on Wednesday morning, the leader of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) yesterday trashed Tory PM Sunak’s pledge to avert another winter crisis this year.

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the RCEM, pointed to a speech made on 30 January this year when Sunak announced a new ‘delivery plan’, for avoiding another winter of chaos in 2023-24.

The Tory PM had claimed: ‘I think we will see, in fact I know we will see, the largest and fastest-ever improvement in emergency waiting times in the NHS’s history.’

Dr Boyle said: ‘They are clearly not achieving what they set out to do and the consequence of this is that we will see the same scenes of ambulances waiting outside emergency departments, and if you are inside an emergency department, people receiving care in corridors. Last year was awful and this year is only just a tiny bit better, nowhere near where we need to be, and nowhere near the position we hoped we would be.

‘It is very disappointing because it is an utterly predictable and largely preventable problem. It is not a surprise that winter comes along every year.’

Professor Philip Banfield, chair of the British Medical Association council, agreed, saying: ‘As we approach what we know will be another incredibly difficult winter, colleagues are not feeling any more optimistic or prepared than last year – rather the opposite.

‘We are still short of beds, have huge rota gaps and patients are not getting the care they need or deserve.

‘The waiting list is still unfathomably long, cancer and emergency department performance targets are being missed and ambulance hand-over delays are unacceptable. Meanwhile, demand and workload in general practice are unsustainable.’

Sunak pledged in January that 5,000 more beds would be brought into NHS hospitals before this winter, but last week, with winter well under way, NHS England said that only 3,000 more ‘core beds’ are in place.

Sunak also pledged to improve bed occupancy rates, but a record 94.8% of beds in England were occupied in November, a higher rate than any previous month since the Covid-19 pandemic began.