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NHS already ‘on its knees’ and winter barely begun, warn healthcare leaders

Government needs to make good on all its election promises for the NHS, and fast, they say, as latest performance figures issued

Caroline White

Friday, 13 December 2019

The NHS is already “on its knees,” yet winter has barely begun, healthcare leaders have warned in light of the latest set of monthly performance figures issued by NHS England today.

The government needs to make good on all its election promises for the NHS, and fast, amid predictions that this winter will be the worst on record, they say.


There were more attendances in November 2019 than in November 2018 and the daily rate of emergency admissions was the highest on record, the figures show.

There were 2,143,336 attendances at A&E departments or 71,445 a day last month, an increase of 105,489, or 3,516 a day on the equivalent figures for November 2018 – a 5.2% rise.

And there were 559,556 emergency admissions, an average of 18,652 per day, and the highest daily rate on record.

Demand increased across the board, with more attendances, longer waits and higher bed occupancy than in the same period last year. And there’s evidence of a system under enormous strain, and struggling to meet demand.

Overall, ambulance delays were higher this year than in the same period last year.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, commented: “These figures show an NHS on its knees, and it is no wonder that most leaders predict that this winter will be the worst on record. More and more patients are turning up at emergency departments and there is a limit as to how many they can cope with.       

“Frontline staff are working themselves into the ground but with the current level of vacancies, and ever rising demand, there is only so much they can do.”

He continued: “We need our newly elected government to get to work now with new services in the community that will relieve the pressure on hospitals, as well as action on staffing, social care, and capital investment.”

Richard Murray, chief executive of health think tank, The King’s Fund, described the figures as “sobering.”


He added: “Sustained increases in the number of people needing treatment have not been matched by increases in staff or resources. Hospitals are constantly operating in the red zone, with NHS trusts struggling to cope with more than 100,000 vacancies.”

And he warned: “Winter has only just begun, and the NHS is already stretched to breaking point. Increasing levels of flu and chronic staff shortages exacerbated by the ongoing pension crisis, point to a torrid few months for the health service.

"The new government made a series of promises to invest in NHS buildings and equipment, recruit and retain more staff and develop a plan for reforming social care. These performance figures underline just how urgently the new government needs to act on these pledges.”

GP Dr Rebecca Fisher and senior policy fellow at independent charity, the Health Foundation, agreed.

“This morning the prime minister said the NHS was his ‘top priority’ and today’s figures show the scale of the task ahead for the new government.

“Without more money and more staff it will be challenging for the NHS to reverse the current deterioration. The NHS also needs funding to implement long-term changes to services, from hospitals to general practice, that can keep people healthier for longer.”

And she concluded: “No solution for the NHS can be complete without action on social care. Too many older people and younger people with disabilities do not have the support they need to live safely and independently.

“The safety net is the NHS, but even this is at risk of breaking down if the government doesn’t act swiftly.”

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