Rishi Sunak holds emergency talks with NHS to end healthcare crisis

Rishi Sunak holds emergency talks with NHS leader is bid to end Britain’s winter healthcare crisis as nursing chief tells him he must negotiate to end strikes

  • No 10’s NHS Recovery Forum will see the PM discuss the UK’s healthcare crisis
  • Today’s meetings will outline issues in emergency, primary and elective care
  • Problems in social care and delayed discharge will also be a vital focus 
  • It comes after Sunak said that the NHS was ‘under enormous pressure’ on Friday 

The Prime Minister is to hold emergency talks with the NHS and care leaders today in the face of Britain’s crumbling health service.

Rishi Sunak will spend this Saturday focused on easing pressures within the UK’s frontline services as the NHS grapples with strikes and unmanageable patient demand.

Senior doctors say that the NHS is on a knife edge, with many A&E units struggling to keep up and ambulance services declaring critical incidents.   

But Mr Sunak has been warned that the rare weekend meeting is unlikely to reverse the NHS’ fortunes, which have been blamed on ‘years of inaction’.

No 10’s NHS Recovery Forum will see the Prime Minister hold talks with health experts about how to improve performance of Britain’s crumbling healthcare service amid strikes 

During a visit to a school on Friday, Mr Sunak  recognised that the NHS was ‘under enormous pressure’.

Discharge rates fell to a new low in England last week, with only a third of those patients ready to be released from hospital actually leaving.

Just three months ago the NHS was also hit by the longest waiting list since records began, with a backlog of 7.2 million in October. 

Now, No 10’s NHS Recovery Forum will see the Prime Minister hold talks with health experts about how to improve performance.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay, Treasury minister John Glen, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden and the chief executive officer of NHS England Amanda Pritchard are set to attend today.

As well as ministers, chief executives and clinical leaders from NHS organisations, local areas and councils will attend from across the country. 

The focus will be on four crucial issues: social care and delayed discharge, urgent and emergency care, elective care, and primary care.

Senior doctors say the NHS is on a knife edge, grappling with unmanageable patient demand

Striking nurses at Leeds General Infirmary mocked Health Secretary Steve Barclay with a rendition of Santa Clause Is Coming To Town while on the picket line on December 20

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen is to attend talks with Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Monday, but outlined that she wants them to discuss the future of the NHS rather than pay negotiations for nurses.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We’ll, of course, go to the meeting and make the case for nursing in all forums, but it’s sadly not what’s going to prevent strike action that’s planned for 10 days’ time.

‘I have put out an olive branch to get us to the table, I’m asking the Prime Minister now to meet the RCN halfway. The ball is firmly in the Prime Minister’s court.

‘The Prime Minister has made himself the face of not just the NHS crisis that we find ourselves facing but also the strike, so I believe he can resolve this dispute if he truly wishes to. The Prime Minister really needs to grasp the nettle now and negotiate with nurses.

Union members will strike again on January 18 and 19 unless pay negotiations are opened

Up to 100,000 nurses took to picket lines on December 15 and 20 in the first national strike in the RCN’s 106-year history

The row is over pay and working conditions, with the RCN demanding a pay rise 5 per cent above RPI inflation — equivalent to a 19 per cent boost (red bar). However, it has consistently indicated that it would accept a lower offer. A 19 per cent rise would see the average nurses’ salary rise from £37,000 to £44,050, while a 10 per cent rise would see it increase to £40,700 (purple bar)

‘He needs to come to the negotiation table with me and he needs to put money on that table, and it needs to be about the current year, which is 22/23.’     

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said there were ‘no silver bullets’ to solving the crisis currently being experienced at hospitals and other care centres.

He also acknowledged that the delays seen today have not been experienced by patients for years.

Mr Taylor said: ‘This crisis has been a decade or more in the making and we are now paying the high price for years of inaction and managed decline,’ said Mr Taylor.

‘High levels of flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and rising Covid levels are exacerbating the problem but the cause is decades of under-investment in staffing, capital and the lack of a long-term solution to the capacity-crunch facing social care.

‘None of these problems can be solved tomorrow.’

Some 9,999 staff were absent from work due to the walkouts on December 15. Another 11,509 were recorded for December 20. Most disruption was logged in the South West, with 4,748 staff taking part over the two days

The Prime Minister, in his first speech of 2023 on Wednesday, made reducing NHS waiting lists one of his key pledges before the next election, which is due to take place before 2025.

A Downing Street spokesman outlined that the Government wants to ‘correct the unwarranted variation in NHS performance between local areas’ and stated that everyone should be able to access quality healthcare.

They said: ‘As the Prime Minister made clear this week, easing the immediate pressures whilst also focusing on the long-term improvement of the NHS is one of his key promises.

‘That’s why we’re bringing together the best minds from the health and care sectors to help share knowledge and practical solutions so that we can tackle the most crucial challenges such as delayed discharge and emergency care.’

Covid cases were estimated to have doubled during December, just as the XBB.1.5 ‘Kraken’ variant began to sweep Britain. Analysts say almost three million people had the virus in the festive week

However, Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting branded the meeting a ‘talking shop’ and said the £500 million for delayed discharges promised by the Government is ‘yet to reach the front line and is now too late to make a difference this winter’.

The senior Labour figure said: ‘After 13 years of mismanaging the NHS, this is the equivalent of the arsonists convening a forum with the fire brigade to put out the inferno they started.

‘Clinical leaders and health experts have been sounding the alarm for months about the crisis the NHS is facing, so why has it taken so long for Rishi Sunak and Steve Barclay to decide to listen to them?

”Patients deserve more than a talking shop.’ 

Ambulances took an average of 48 minutes and eight seconds to respond to 372,326 category two calls, such as heart attacks, strokes burns and epilepsy at the end of 2022 (red bars)

A&E performance worsened in November, with a third of emergency department attendees not seen within four hours (red line) — the NHS’s worst ever performance. Thousands weren’t even seen after waiting in casualty for 12 hours (yellow bars)

NHS Confederation chief Mr Taylor, a former Labour and Tony Blair aide, agreed with the criticism, saying the investment to improve discharge rates came ‘too late to have maximum impact this winter’.

He added: ‘Indeed, some local systems are still awaiting their allocation.

‘Any similar funding next year must be provided four to six months in advance so it can genuinely ease winter pressures.’

Saturday’s Downing Street forum is expected to last most of today.

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