Hospitals face a grim Christmas and could be overwhelmed amid fears people will flood A&E today after delaying treatment because of the ambulance strikes yesterday and nurses walking out 24 hours earlier.
Health chiefs warned of a calm before the storm after 999 calls plummeted in many areas and are predicting an immediate bounce in calls. Insiders have said that A&Es and wards face a ‘very challenging’ Christmas.
They fear a spike in demand from today as the sick seek help after holding off during the ambulance strike. Those who did make their way to A&E complained of the disruption caused by the walkout, while home births were cancelled in case of complications.
Up to 10,000 ambulance workers, including paramedics, technicians and call handlers, joined the industrial action at ten out of the 11 ambulance trusts in England and Wales. Up to 100,000 nursing staff staged their second strike on December 20.
Ambulances parked outside the West Midlands Ambulance Service headquarters in Coventry, as paramedics, ambulance technicians and call handlers walk out in England and Wales yesterday. NHS trusts fear a bounceback today as patients delayed treatment
Ambulance workers take part in a strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, outside NHS London Ambulance Service in London
Ambulance services hit more that half the UK yesterday
Ambulance trusts say 999 calls were lower than usual, raising fears patients held off seeking help and will be sicker when they flood phone lines and A&E departments today and tomorrow.
More strike mayhem TODAY as National Highways workers down tools for four days while 20M drivers hit the roads for ‘worst Xmas getaway ever’
Britain is bracing for yet another day of strike chaos today as National Highway workers become the latest to down tools, following a week of disruption which has seen paramedics and nurses walk out in their thousands.
Britons getting home for Christmas will struggle to travel by road and rail amid strikes by the train and National Highway unions, while border force staff will also walk out from Friday.
Christmas Eve will see the start of yet another national rail strike from 6pm that evening until 6am on the 27th of December.
The industrial action will cause carnage for those travelling across the UK to make it home for the holidays to see family and friends.
It follows a week which has seen nurses and paramedics walk out in a dispute over pay, putting increased pressure on an already-strained NHS.
Critics have argued the action will endanger lives, but Unison, representing the ambulance workers, said the NHS had long-running issues not related to the strike and said it was up to the government to open negotiations.
NHS chiefs and unions have also assured the public that life-saving services will not be impacted by the strikes.
However, people have been asked to only call 999 for an ambulance if the situation is life-threatening during the paramedics’ strike, as some families are forced to drive their loved ones to A&E.
National Highways workers will strike from today until Christmas Day in the latest phase of industrial action by the UK’s biggest civil service union.
There was a stark warning from North East Ambulance Service chief operating officer Stephen Segasby, who said patients should ask themselves: ‘Am I going to die? Do I feel like I’m going to die’ before seeking medical aid.
West Midlands Ambulance Service reported a 70 per cent drop in calls, while demand in south-west England was down by a third on normal volumes.
Welsh Ambulance Service chief executive Jason Killens said activity yesterday was ‘noticeably quieter’.
Many turned to the 111 non-emergency call line – the South West saw a 250 per cent increase in inquiries. GPs also received more calls.
But health experts warned that sick people might be delaying help – causing a similar logjam of health problems seen after the lockdowns.
This not only puts their health at risk but also stores up trouble for the coming days, when ambulance staff are back at work as normal.
There will also be a knock-on effect in different parts of the health system as elective procedures and outpatient appointments are rescheduled.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘We are particularly concerned about a rebound effect, which means things could be much worse in the days to come.’
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘The disruption is far from over. The fallout from strike action is likely to spill over into the coming days due to the knock-on impact across different parts of the health and care system, the need to reschedule elective and outpatient appointments, and the anticipation of a return to very high numbers of emergency calls.
‘There is particular concern about patients who may have delayed seeking care – and whose conditions have deteriorated – now coming forward for treatment.’
Many made their own way to hospital to avoid long waits for ambulances.
Lee Tucker, 57, took a day off work to drive his elderly mother-in-law to A&E at Queen’s Medical Hospital (QMH) in Nottingham after she hurt her leg in a fall.
He said: ‘I’ll always go out of my way to help my family but have had to leave the office for the day, which isn’t great because I’ve missed an important meeting.’
Sarah Chaplin, 47, who caught a taxi to the same hospital with an aunt who had injured her wrist, said: ‘It’s going to cost us £20 for the taxi fares, which is a hit we could have done without so near to Christmas.
‘I think ambulances are so important to sick people that their drivers shouldn’t be allowed to go on strike.’
Taxi drivers around the country had a bumper pay day as distressed members of the public rang to arrange lifts to hospital.
Paul Harris had already dropped off four people at QMH by lunchtime.
He said: ‘Some of them had problems breathing. It doesn’t seem right that old people who have paid their taxes all their lives are having to pay for cars to get them to hospital.’
In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a women needing attention for an eating disorder had to get a lift from a friend to Royal Victoria Infirmary. Cheryl, in her 30s, said: ‘It was all very inconvenient and I can see why some people think it’s disgraceful.’
One resourceful pensioner called on her carers for help after she slipped and fell.
Margaret, 77, from Orpington, told BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘In the past I have called an ambulance but this morning I called my carers and they were here within minutes. They’ve already said if you can’t get back into bed tonight, you ring our office and we will come.’
Expectant mothers planning home births had their hopes dashed as warnings were issued and services suspended.
Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in west London told mothers-to-be: ‘There is no guarantee that an ambulance or paramedic will come to your home to attend you in labour or in the event of an emergency.
‘Please, therefore, make sure you have plans to get to hospital, for example by car or taxi.’ Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust ‘strongly recommended’ giving birth at its maternity service, adding that failure to do so ‘may compromise you and your baby’s safety’.
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust in London said it had suspended its home birth service because of the strike.
Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley complained that strikes by nurses and then ambulance staff were ‘dragging police officers away from protecting Londoners’.
He told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: ‘The thing that concerns me most, frankly, is if we have more mental health and other [social] work falling into our lap, we stop responding to burglaries and stabbings and other offences.
‘I think my officers will find it galling that they’re filling in for this work when they’re not allowed to strike – they have no desire to, they want to work and protect London – and yet they’re filling in for other public servants who are striking.’