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UK winter crisis: medical bodies urge government to act

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Amid harsh winters and surging demand, the UK’s medical bodies said on Monday people were dying from inadequate care and urged the government to act as Britain’s health service battled a winter crisis of strikes.

The National Health Service (NHS) faced budget constraints for more than a decade before the COVID-19 pandemic severely strained it.

One in five patients picked up by an ambulance in England last week took more than an hour to be admitted to emergency care, while tens of thousands waited more than 12 hours before receiving treatment there.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said on Sunday that between 300 and 500 patients die each week in emergency care, particularly due to long waiting times.

The hospital’s vice president stuck to the predictions on Monday, dismissing suggestions that short-term factors caused the crisis, after some hospital officials scrutinized the claim.

“If you’ve been on the front line, you know this is a long-standing problem…the kind of things we see happening every winter, and it still seems like a surprise,” Ian Higginson told BBC Radio.

The British Medical Association (BMA) on Monday called the current situation “intolerable and untenable” with the NHS facing “incredibly high levels of demand” and said the government must act.

Phil Banfield, chair of the UK BMA Council, said: “It is not true that the cost of resolving this mess cannot be afforded by this country. This is a political choice and patients are dying needlessly because of that choice.”

The government attributed the pressure on the National Health Service to the consequences of the epidemic and winter diseases such as influenza.

In his New Year message, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his administration had taken “decisive action” and mobilized “record resources” to tackle the NHS backlog and staffing pressures.

But the government recently embarked on a policy of budget savings and rejected salary increases demanded by nurses as inflation in the UK has been over 10 per cent for months.

Nurses went on strike for the first time in their union’s history last month.

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