Ambulances are ‘busiest all winter’ as flu cases surge and doctors strike


AMBULANCES are the busiest they have been all winter as hospitals battle a flu surge and doctors’ strikes.

The NHS said 93,500 patients arrived by ambulance last week compared to 84,000 at the start of December, with one in seven waiting an hour or more to get into A&E.

Ambulances waiting outside St Thomas' Hospital in London on Thursday


Ambulances waiting outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London on ThursdayCredit: Alamy

Dr Tim Cooksley, of the Society of Acute Medicine, said: “The winter crisis is hitting hard.”

Flu patient numbers increased last week to more than 1,300 each day, up more than a third from 942 per day the week before.

The stress is piling on for hospitals which on Saturday enter their fourth day of the six-day junior doctors’ strike, ending on Tuesday.

At least four NHS trusts are reported to have declared critical incidents, warning they cannot function properly.

The number of patients with Covid has risen by 72 per cent in a month to nearly 4,000 per day.

It was also the busiest week for NHS 111 so far this winter, with 444,285 calls last week – 44 a minute.

Professor Julian Redhead, NHS England’s urgent care director, said: “The pressure is not going to let up any time soon, with four more days of strike action and the flu season not expected to peak soon.”

Sir Julian Hartley, of NHS Providers, told Times Radio: “We’re desperate to see a resolution to this strike action because it’s hitting patients hard.”

It comes after a row erupted between NHS bosses and the British Medical Association because the union refused requests for doctors to come off picket lines to protect patients.

The BMA had not approved any of approximately 20 requests as of Thursday.

They said managers have not filled out forms properly or tried other options before reaching for the last resort, accusing them of trying to undermine the strike.

Top NHS leaders hit back on Thursday and said they have genuine safety fears and the BMA is nitpicking about paperwork.

Danny Mortimer, chief of NHS Employers, said: “We’ve been crystal clear that these are clinical, not political, interventions. 

“These are requests being made by senior doctors.”

A letter to the BMA from NHS England’s medical director, Sir Stephen Powis, and chief operating officer, Dr Emily Lawson, said they will “do whatever is necessary to maintain safe care for patients”.

It said: “We remain very concerned about the impact on our ability to manage patients who require time-sensitive urgent treatment, for example cancer patients or women needing urgent caesarean sections.”


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