£300m ‘sticking plaster’ for crisis in NHS

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
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Doctors’ leaders today accuse Ministers of using a “sticking plaster” to tackle a looming crisis as they unveiled an injection of £300 million in emergency funding to tackle NHS winter pressures.

The cash - branded a “panic move” by Labour - comes on top of an extra £400m for the health service which is struggling to cope with soaring demand in the face of flat austerity funding.

Seven NHS trusts running hospitals in Yorkshire are forecasting deficits in 2014-15 even before winter pressures begin to bite.

Already many hospitals are struggling to find enough beds for sick patients, with latest figures showing 104,100 patients were admitted to hospitals in England last week compared with 98,700 from the same period last year.

Early this week, hospital bosses in Rotherham warned the town’s A&E was under “extreme pressure” from large volumes of patients and urged the less seriously ill to stay away.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt today admits the NHS is facing “unprecedented” demand, and warns it is no longer sustainable for A&E units to bear the brunt.

He said cash to meet winter pressures included £25m to widen GP access, £50m for ambulances and would pay for 1,000 extra doctors, 2,000 additional nurses and 2,500 more beds.

But British Medical Association chairman Mark Porter said the money was “merely a sticking plaster”.

He said: “If the NHS is to stop lurching from one crisis to another it needs a long-term plan rather than a short-term fix.

“Years of tighter funding have left services understaffed, under-resourced and unable to cope.

“Pressure on services has been so great this year that, in addition to a looming winter crisis, many emergency departments have already experienced spring, summer and autumn crises. Many hospitals are already at, and in places over, capacity.”

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “We’ve been telling David Cameron for more than two years to get a grip on the crisis he created in A&E. Throwing money at it when winter’s about to start is not good enough.

“England’s A&Es are getting worse, not better, and this panic move is too little to stop the NHS facing a difficult winter.”

Former Yorkshire NHS boss Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, welcomed the extra funding but called for long-term solutions.

And he warned: “The cash does not guarantee extra staffing nor does it help with planning.”

Mr Hunt claimed the NHS was “better prepared than ever before” for winter. He said: “We are boosting frontline services and expect the NHS to ensure strong performance is delivered locally, drawing on the multi-million pound support package that the Government has provided.”

But he added: “The pressures are higher than they have ever been before in the system. It is worth also asking the question, is this going to go on like this? And the answer is that it is not sustainable in the long run to say that all the extra pressure in the NHS has to be borne by A&E departments.”