The news in this week’s media on health is bleak. Yesterday, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said that a bad flu season was piling pressure on to services that were already critically overstretched. He claimed that somewhere between 300 and 500 people are dying as a consequence of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care each week. The British Medical Association said pressure on the NHS is “intolerable and unsustainable”. The Society for Acute Medicine said “urgent action” is needed to bring the health service back from the brink. The head of the NHS Confederation warned senior medics are reporting the “toughest winter they’ve ever dealt with”.

The Liberal Democrats have called for the NHS to declare a national “major incident”, as has the Society for Acute Medicine. The Lib Dems have also called for parliament to be recalled to discuss the crisis this week and hear what ministers plan.

Two patients in ambulances waited for more than 30 hours to be handed over at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust (SaTH) hospitals in December. In the week to Christmas Day, more than half of ambulances arriving at SaTH were delayed for an hour or more. That is unacceptable and these delays will seriously damaging patient’s health prospects.

On 20 December, there 16 ambulances waiting outside Royal Shrewsbury Hospital A&E waiting to discharge patients. This is despite a new system intended to get ambulances back on the road quickly and a Winter Control Room to monitor and ease demand. In the week to Christmas, ambulances time spent a total 667 hours waiting outside the county’s two hospitals to hand over patients. If the national target of a 15-minute handover had been met, the total waiting time should have been no more than 107 hours. But there few hospital trusts have met the national target in recent years.

Handover delays lead to delays with ambulances get back on the road to attend new patients. Currently ambulance trusts do not publish localised data on ambulance arrival times. The Lib Dems have a bill before parliament calling on ambulance trusts to publish data by postcode. The bill has little chance of becoming law without government support. It is a bill that would cost very little but it is unlikely that the government will give it backing because it is in a state of denial about the crisis in the NHS.

In the week to Christmas, 94% of SaTH beds were occupied. Part of the problem is discharging patients into care or home settings once they are fit to leave (bed blocking). SaTH has not submitted data to NHS England on bed blocking since 18 December (why?), when there were 176 patients awaiting discharge, including 71 who had been fit to discharge for 21 days or more.

The NHS is not failing. The government is failing the NHS. Ministers are hiding behind a now tired statement that extra money is being given to the NHS. But they have no specific plans to tackle the crisis. The health secretary and prime minister seem to have taken a vow of silence on the current crisis, though Rishi Sunak’s office has acknowledged that “some people will find it very difficult to access the NHS this winter”. There is talk of Rishi Sunak making a statement on the crisis next week but why not this week? This hesitant reaction and minister’s failure to get a grip on escalating problems comes despite predictions that the NHS crisis could last until April.

How many people does it take to suffer and die unnecessarily before the government acts?

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