A&Es in meltdown

Build for strikes to save NHS

  • Northern Ireland nurses show the way
NHS workers protest against privatisation of the blood service, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson

NHS workers protest against privatisation of the blood service, photo Paul Mattsson, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Jon Dale, secretary, Unite union Nottinghamshire Health Branch

It’s an emergency! In November, none of England’s 118 major accident and emergency departments met their targets – the first time ever. In December the situation got worse.

Most hospitals in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also failed to treat and admit, transfer or discharge 95% of patients within four hours. The sickest patients needing admission are most likely to wait for beds to become free while lying on trolleys in corridors or waiting areas.

This leads to queueing ambulances outside. Over 80,000 ambulance patients – one in six – waited at least 30 minutes before they could be handed to A&E staff during this winter’s first five weeks. Ambulance response times after 999 calls are up as a result.

So far, winter has been mild. Icy conditions immediately send casualty numbers soaring as people fall, have road accidents or arrive in hypothermia.

The never-ending list of statistics describes an NHS buckling under the strain. Every figure represents people suffering.

Stress and sickness

Knowing this human cost puts massive strain on health workers. Decisions must be made fast. There’s no time to comfort and reassure sick patients and their families when the queue stretches out the door.

Staff stagger home exhausted and it’s hard to switch off. ‘Was I right to do this? Should I have checked that?’ No wonder sickness levels are up. 200,000 nurses have left the profession since 2011. Johnson claims he’s going to persuade some to stay and others to return!

Nurses and ambulance staff in Northern Ireland are showing how to fight low pay and unsafe staffing levels. 20,000 were on strike on 8 January, including 9,500 Royal College of Nursing members – the RCN’s first strike in 103 years.

Huge public support for their action helped drive politicians from sectarian and pro-big business parties to re-form a power-sharing government after three years’ stalemate.

Unions should organise now to defend all health workers and the services they provide. An emergency conference calling an emergency national demonstration, building for national strike action, is needed. These should be the first steps to defeat Tory privatisation plans and reverse years of austerity.