This Christmas could be one of the darkest in the NHS, trusted leaders have predicted, warning that the strikes threaten to exacerbate an “already deeply challenging situation” in the health service.
The troubling prediction came as more strikes were announced by ambulance workers for the New Yearone day after 25,000 left in England and Wales.
Health chiefs are working to mitigate the impact of industrial action in addition to having to deal with an “incredibly long list of other serious challenges”, NHS providers said.
Figures from last week show that one in four ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed over to A&E teams at hospitals, while new data suggests hospitalized flu patients in England have been “shot” and strep A is driving “near record.” ‘ Demand for NHS 111 services.
Nurses went on strike on December 15 and Tuesday, while ambulance workers in England and Wales followed suit on Wednesday and another strike is planned for December 28.
Handover delays were high throughout the past week, with no clear evidence that industrial action taken by nurses on their first day of strike had any specific impact.
Unions have long argued that they are on strike not just over wages, but also over the state of the healthcare system, which they say has been chronically underfunded and understaffed, raising concerns for the safety of the patients.
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Unison members in five ambulance services in England will stage two more strikes on 11 and 23 January, while the Unite union has announced that its members in the Welsh Ambulance Service have voted in favor of the strike, with 1,000 workers ready to take action on dates to be announced. In the new year.
Most ambulance trusts in England declared critical incidents this week, meaning they were at their highest level of alert and feared they would not be able to provide usual critical services.
NHS Providers, the organization for members of the NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services, has reiterated its call for urgent discussions between unions and government on wages to prevent further strike action.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay is considering accelerating an NHS pay rise next year in a bid to settle the dispute, but has so far ruled out any move on current wages.
On Thursday, despite calls to discuss pay, he tweeted to say his ‘door is always open to speak to unions about concerns about working conditions’, repeating the government line that they will continue to defer to the ‘ independent wage review body’. process to ‘ensure that decisions balance the needs of staff and the broader economy’.
While some ambulance trusts have come down from their highest alert levels, they warned the public that the health service remains under great pressure.
The East of England Ambulance Service and North West Ambulance Service have relinquished their critical incident status, but added that the NHS “remains under extreme pressure” and said the 999 and 111 services are “still challenged”.
Nursing leaders warned that the NHS is “dangerously close to completely overheating” and said the latest figures suggested there was “absolutely no slack in the system”.
Patricia Marquis, director of the Royal College of Nursing in England, lamented the “record nursing vacancies” and insisted that the only way to solve the problem is “by paying nurses fairly to retain and recruit the staff needed by patients “.
Saffron Cordery, acting chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Trusted leaders expect this Christmas to be one of the darkest yet. As they work hard to mitigate the impact of the ongoing strike, they also have to deal with an incredibly long list of other serious challenges.’
He warned that the flu season looks “much more severe compared to the last years before the pandemic”, something that has affected the occupancy of beds that, he said, “continues to be above the levels considered safe”.
On delays in transferring patients from ambulances to the care of A&E teams, he said: “With ambulance delivery delays increasing by a third in the last week, trusted leaders are extremely concerned as the strike threatens to exacerbate an already deeply challenging situation.
“We urge the government to talk to the unions about wages as soon as possible.”
The NHS has braced for additional pressure from the fallout from this week’s industrial action, with pent-up demand from those who failed to seek care during the strikes, along with operations postponed and appointments having to be rescheduled.
In a message to ministers, speaking on Sky, Ms Cordery said there are over 130,000 vacancies in the NHS and “we are losing staff due to pay and working conditions, particularly in younger bands.”
She said the social care system is also ‘on its knees’, which has an impact on the NHS by making it more difficult for hospitals to discharge patients into the community.
At least 2,774 ambulance service workers in England were absent on Wednesday due to the strike, the latest figures showed.
The total is likely to be higher, as NHS England said some trusts had yet to submit data.
Some 4,292 outpatient appointments due to take place in England on Wednesday were rescheduled, while 559 elective procedures had to be re-arranged, NHS England said.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents most health organisations, said the service “managed as well as could be expected” on Wednesday but warned it could not “deal any longer” with a winter of industrial action.
He told BBC Radio 4s Today programme: ‘We will repeat the call, which is for the unions and the government to move away from rhetoric and take a step towards bargaining. We cannot fall for more and more industrial actions.’
On Sky News, he said the strikes add to longstanding problems plaguing the NHS.
“There are signs of hope looking to the future, but now we are paying the price for those 10 years of austerity, for the delay of Covid, for not addressing those problems,” he said.
Allies of the health secretary, who angered unions by suggesting that striking health workers “made a conscious decision to inflict harm on patients,” have revealed that he is willing to “speed up the process” to give health care staff NHS a pay rise early next year to break the deadlock.
NHS staff often have to wait until the public sector-wide pay review process is complete, usually in the summer, to receive a retroactive raise, despite an independent review body making recommendations in April.
But sources close to Mr Barclay have told The Daily Telegraph that he acknowledges NHS staff are “feeling the pinch” and will demand that action be taken to see any extra money in the pay packages “as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile, the wave of strikes, fueled by wages failing to keep up with runaway inflation, continued across the UK.
The strikes involved National Highways in London and the South East, Unite members working for Highlands and Islands airports, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) staff in the North West, Yorkshire and Humber and North Wales, and Rural Payments Agency workers, while Unison members at the Environment Agency refuse to provide on-call cover for unexpected incidents.
On Friday, Royal Mail workers are set to take part in another national strike, as strikes by National Highways and DVSA workers continue.
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