Labour demands £700m emergency cash injection to address NHS winter 'crisis'


Theresa May has been challenged to announce immediate action to address the winter crisis in the NHS, with Labour calling for a £700 million emergency cash injection.

The Prime Minister and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt have come under pressure to act as officials and Tory MPs clashed with health organisations about the scale of the problems facing the NHS in England.

The Red Cross has warned of a "humanitarian crisis" - a description rejected by NHS England - while the British Medical Association (BMA) said the Government should be "ashamed" of the situation.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called on Mrs May to use a major live television interview on Sunday to promise more cash for the system - and commit to a comprehensive package in the Budget in March.

He said Mrs May should use her first interview of the year, on Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday, to commit to bringing forward £700 million of social care money to help hospitals cope this winter.

Mr Ashworth also urged the Prime Minister and Chancellor Philip Hammond to pledge a new funding settlement for health and care in the Budget "so this year's crisis never happens again".

Meanwhile, a war of words has broken out between the British Red Cross, health officials and Tory MPs over the charity's claim that there was a "humanitarian crisis" in England.

The charity's chief executive, Mike Adamson, said extra cash was needed for health and social care to make the system sustainable.

"The British Red Cross is on the front line, responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country," he said.

"We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much-needed beds."

But Keith Willett, director of acute care for NHS England, said that "on the international scale of a humanitarian crisis, I do not think the NHS is at that point".

An NHS England spokesman said: "For the past few years winter plans have included contracts with the Red Cross to provide services for councils and the local NHS across England."

Commons Health Select Committee chairwoman Dr Sarah Wollaston, a Tory MP and former GP, said: "There is a crisis in social care provision but the term 'humanitarian crisis' is too strong. This is not equivalent to Syria or Yemen."

Tory former health minister Anna Soubry hit out at the use of "irresponsible language", saying that although she was aware of "shocking delays and intolerable pressures" in local A&E and ambulance services in her Nottinghamshire seat, "it doesn't amount to a humanitarian crisis".

Mr Willett said: "Clearly, demand is at the highest level ever. But also our planning is probably more comprehensive than it has ever been."

The pressures facing the NHS have been laid bare in recent days:

:: Two patients died on trolleys in Worcestershire Royal Hospital's accident and emergency department in the last week

:: The latest figures show overflowing A&E departments shut their doors to patients more than 140 times in December

:: Nuffield Trust analysis showed a third of health trusts in England had issued alerts that they needed urgent action to cope last month, with seven of those unable to provide comprehensive care.

BMA head Dr Mark Porter said: "This intervention from the Red Cross highlights the enormous pressure the NHS is currently facing as conditions in hospitals across the country are reaching a dangerous level.

"The Government should be ashamed that it has got to the point where volunteers have been necessary to ease the burden."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for Mrs May to be hauled before MPs on Monday to give a statement, claiming that "the health service is at breaking point" and it was a "national scandal".

Mr Hunt has not spoken publicly on the issue despite repeated requests for comment and former health minister Norman Lamb urged him to come out of "hiding".

The Liberal Democrat said: "This Government should be ashamed. It ignored calls for extra cash to support health and care services through the winter, and now it is patients who are paying the price."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Winter is always a very busy time for the NHS and so to support staff working hard on the front line, we have put in place comprehensive plans earlier than ever, supported by an extra £400 million of funding to help the service cope with additional demand."