It will be “very difficult” for some people to access the National Health Service this winter, Downing Street has acknowledged, while insisting that ministers have a properly funded plan to support a health service that many staff and experts say is on the brink of collapse.
Asked if England’s NHS was in crisis, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “This is without doubt an unprecedented challenge for the NHS, brought about by a number of factors, the most important being the global pandemic.
“We are confident that we are providing the NHS with the funds it needs, as we have during the pandemic, to address these issues.”
When asked if patients and staff facing long waits for ambulances or hospital beds would agree that the system was adequately resourced, the spokesperson acknowledged the magnitude of the problems faced.
“I recognized that for a number of people looking to access the NHS this winter it will be very difficult, because of some of these huge challenges that the pandemic in particular has placed on us,” he said.
“What I am saying is that we recognized ahead of time that this would be a challenging winter, and we have tried to implement a number of measures to mitigate these challenges.”
Sunak is under pressure to act quickly amid warnings that a crisis in emergency care, which is causing an estimated 300 to 500 excess deaths a week and routinely creating distressing scenes in emergency departments, could last well into spring.
The prime minister has yet to make any public appearances scheduled for this week, when the House of Commons is in recess. Either Steve Barclayalthough the health secretary is expected to make an NHS-related visit in the coming days.
Sunak’s spokesman said No 10 did not accept the estimate of up to 500 excess deaths a week by Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, and questioned the idea that NHS patients would have to “get used to ” a long time. street band.
“That is not what I have said. We have a plan, backed by significant amounts of funding, and NHS England will present primary and emergency recovery plans in the coming weeks, which will set out more details on how we will bring these numbers down, again, backed by significant funding. ,” he said.
Details of the action from England’s NHS would come “as soon as possible”, he said.
Asked if the delays created by Covid were the cause of the crisis, the spokesman said it was “one of the important drivers”, along with a shortage of adult social care places where vulnerable patients could be given discharge, describing the latter as “a long-standing problem.” problem that we have recognized and have been trying to address.”
He added: “We had been honest with the public long before this winter that because of the pandemic and the pressures it put on the backlog of cases, this would be an extremely challenging winter and that’s what we’re seeing.”
The government was “doing everything possible to increase the number of beds”, the spokesman said, but would not comment on ideas put forward to improve this, for example opening temporary Nightingale hospitals.
Asked if the government’s winter preparations are going as planned, or worse, he said: “I would just say that we will always recognize that this is going to be a very challenging winter and I think a number of health care systems around the world are also seeing something similar.” challenges.”
The spokesperson dismissed questions about private healthcare used by Sunak and his family, and whether that insulated him from the crisis.
He said: “It would be totally wrong to try to claim that the prime minister is not fully aware of the challenges facing our health service.”