‘Perfect storm’ as hospitals axe ops and patients face 24-hour waits for ambulances

The crisis-hit NHS is facing a “perfect storm” of soaring staff absences and a huge rise in Covid patients.

By Wednesday, the number of NHS trusts declaring major incidents had soared to 24.

Exhausted ambulance crews are overstretched, with some patients waiting 24 hours for a vehicle.

One union boss said: “We are nearly at breaking point. We are heading for the perfect storm. All the hospitals are full and we are seeing huge call volumes.

One in 15 people in England now has the disease, according to the latest official research – up from one in 25 the previous week.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Hospitals who have declared critical incidents are essentially reaching out to staff who are on leave, on rest days or even recently retired and asking them to come back. So the situation is desperate.”

The critical incidents have all been declared in recent days, while non-urgent operations have been axed at hospitals across north west England.

Patients face 24-hour waits for ambulances


Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

Some 17 hospitals in Greater Manchester have paused appointments for conditions not yet life-threatening, but a critical incident had not been declared.

NHS North West regional medical director Dr David Levy said staff are under “fairly intense pressure” at present.

SAGE modeller Dr Mike Tildesley said it may already be too late to introduce any new Covid restrictions to help the NHS in the coming weeks.

The number of Covid patients in hospital has soared in many areas in the past week. It rose 40% in the South West, 52% in east England, 61% in the Midlands, 82% in the North West and 85% in the North East and Yorkshire.

University Hospitals Dorset was among those declaring a critical incident today after running out of beds.

Ambulances parked up at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead


Andy Commins / Daily Mirror)

Due to soaring cases of the Omicron variant Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group also declared a critical incident for healthcare settings across the region.

Royal United Hospitals Bath declared a critical incident on New Year’s eve and remain in one, it confirmed today.

Trusts to have issued the internal alert also include Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.

Health minister Gillian Keegan said she has asked NHS England to look into a struggling ambulance trust which has asked friends or family to transport potential heart attack or stroke sufferers to hospital.

Health Minister Gillian Keegan talking to Sky News


Sky News)

The overstretched North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust also suggested call handlers could ask 999 callers to book a taxi.

Ms Keegan told Sky News: “I’ve actually asked NHS England to look at that particular case because that doesn’t sound to me like that’s an acceptable approach – people should be able to get an ambulance if they have a heart attack.”

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, said: “A perfect storm of pressure on the NHS from rising Covid cases, soaring staff absences, and long ambulance delays is forcing the health service into impossible situations.”

Torbay Hospital apologised to patients forced to wait hours in queueing ambulances after 19 were photographed queueing outside.

In response Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust medical director Ian Currie said: “Like many hospitals across the country, we continue to be under sustained pressure.

“We would like to offer our sincere apologies to everyone who is waiting for treatment or who has experienced a wait.”

One in 15 people in England now has Covid, according to the latest figures


AFP via Getty Images)

New data shows a record 3.7 million Brits had Covid in the week to New Year’s Eve, up from 2.3 million the previous week.

The North West currently has the highest Covid infection rate in England, followed by London and the East of England. Wales and the Midlands also now have hotspots.

One in 15 people in England now has Covid according to the latest update from the Office for National Statistics random swab testing survey today – up from one in 25 the previous week.

The ONS found that one in 20 people have the virus in Wales and Scotland, and one in 25 in Northern Ireland.

Official figures yesterday showed 194,747 new Covid cases in the UK.

There were 334 more deaths, though it included a backlog of some deaths not reported since New Year’s Day.

The British Heart Foundation warned that a “perfect storm” is forcing the NHS into “impossible situations”.

‘Perfect storm’

An ambulance workers’ union boss says they are at “breaking point” and heading for a “perfect storm” with sickness levels leaving patients waiting up to 24 hours for an ambulance.

While other patients have been left sitting in the back of ambulances for up to seven hours waiting for a bed in A & E.

Bryn Webster, from Unison’s National Ambulance Committee, said: “Unfortunately with the sickness levels and self isolating levels we are nearly at breaking point.

“We are heading for the perfect storm within the NHS, all the hospitals are full and we are seeing huge call volumes.

“Our ambulance crews, the control rooms and 111 are all exhausted and on their knees. They’ve had two years of this and it has taken a mental and physical toll.

Bryn Webster from Unisons National Ambulance Committee

“In my 38 years working for the ambulance service I’ve never seen anything like this. I wouldn’t be surprised if ambulance services declare a major incident soon. We are in the middle of a crisis.”

They are seeing many who avoided going to hospital during lockdown now seeking help and staff are working extra hours to help cope with the number of callouts.

“It’s stressing a lot of ambulance staff that we can’t get to the patients. There’s been horrific stories of 24-hour waits.

“The staff are sitting in the back of ambulances with patients for hours.

“They are getting burnt out. They are not getting off shift on time and having to work hours after their shift ends then come back in a few hours later.

“In our control rooms there is incredible stress too, the calls are going up and the sickness is going up. They are having to try and do a lot more triage which takes time, getting more information to work out the appropriate response to each call.

“It really is depressing and it’s not going to get any better in the near future.

“We could put hundreds of ambulances out there but if you can’t get the patients into hospital off the vehicles, the calls start backing up and we can’t respond to the jobs.

“The hospitals are hit by sickness and the ambulances are hit by sickness.

“The Government need to step up and fund the NHS appropriately. We are all here for the patients, they should be too.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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