Commenting on the growing waiting times at Accident & Emergency (A&E) Departments in hospitals across the region, Amy Barringer, UNISON North West’s Head of Health said:
“NHS staff work hard all year round to keep services going, but it is increasingly difficult for the service to respond to any spike in demand. Many staff are saying that this is the worst winter that they can remember.
“NHS workers have seen lower staffing levels and increased workloads in recent years. NHS staff effectively donate £1.5bn a year in unpaid overtime. They are working flat out across all hospital departments and this can’t go on indefinitely.
“There are several causes for the increased demands on A&E services that we are seeing this winter relating to funding, the closure of NHS Direct and wider cuts in public services.
“Funding for the NHS is not keeping up with the demand for health services. The proportion of national income spent on the NHS is falling and is projected to fall further. I don’t think that reflects the public’s priorities.
“It was a mistake to close NHS Direct. It was a valued service that made nurses more accessible on the phone. The new 111 service does not have call-handlers with the same level of training – so people are more likely to be referred to A&E to get a medical opinion.
“The NHS is also experiencing increased demands because of cuts elsewhere in public spending. In particular, cuts in local authority social care services affect the NHS. When the necessary support is not available in the community, people are more likely to come to A&E or to remain an in-patient for longer.
“What we are seeing in our A&Es now is a consequence of years of running down our public services. You can’t keep cutting and not see an impact – chickens come home to roost.
“Morale has been damaged by the Government’s refusal to pay even the recommended 1% pay rise to staff. The dispute over pay and the winter crisis in A&Es are both symptoms of the Government’s cuts to public spending. As a society we need to better value our NHS and our NHS staff.
“The NHS remains the best health service in the world – the Commonwealth Fund rated the NHS at the top of the league internationally – with the US system at the bottom. They also found that the NHS was the most efficient health service in the world. The NHS is still great, but we need to look after it and invest in our public services.”