Many hospital trusts have “declared critical incidents” so far this winter and a leading health chief has warned that the “last thing” we need is for the NHS to go on strike for four days this month.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations said the current situation is “very difficult” amid high demand in hospitals with Covid and flu and few staff.
Taylor told BBC Breakfast, “There’s no doubt the situation is very difficult – that’s why many trusts have declared critical incidents.
“We are not able to provide the level of service we want to provide…
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“The simple reality here is that the health service is caught between the fact that it has limited capacity, particularly when it comes to workforce – 130,000 vacancies – and a level of demand that it is difficult to meet in ordinary times.
“When you add in flu and Covid, which doesn’t just affect patients but also means many staff are off ill, that’s when you get to this very difficult situation we’re in.”
He was asked if cases of flu and Covid have peaked, he said, “I think it’s very difficult to be clear.
“I don’t think the statistics would give us reason to feel that we have peaked – January is normally the hardest month for the health service.
“So, I think the one thing that we can say is that it’s going to carry on being tough, and that’s why it’s important to be clear about the situation and it’s important to have clear messages to the public.
“But also… it’s really important that, as ministers return to their desks, that they consider ways of reopening negotiations with the trade unions because four days of strikes on top of the situation we’re in now is the last thing we need.”
Downing Street has said the further NHS strikes will have an impact on patient care and Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said the government has been “up front” over the pressure the NHS will suffer this winter.
He said, “I think we are confident we are providing the NHS with the funding it needs – and as we did throughout the pandemic – to deal with these issues.
“I think we have been up front with the public long in advance of this winter that because of the pandemic and the pressures it’s placed in the backlog of cases that this would be an extremely challenging winter, and that is what we are seeing.”
The spokesman was asked if the Prime Minister believes the NHS is in crisis, he said, “This is certainly an unprecedented challenge for the NHS brought about, as I say, by a number of factors.”