Elderly patients ‘will be trapped in hospital at Christmas’ by NHS strikes

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Unions are still negotiating local agreements with ambulance trusts about which calls will be responded to during Wednesday’s strike.

However, South Western Ambulance Service warned the public to “think carefully” before calling 999 during the strike, as they may only be able to respond to calls “where is the most immediate risk to life”.

The North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), where both the GMB and Unite members will walk out, said it was expecting “operational challenges to last for a further 48 hours, so our advice is to place for 72 hours of disruption”.

A leaked letter from Dr Chris Grant, medical director for NWAS, revealed paramedics would not carry out any patient transfers between hospitals, there would be no transport home services and care homes will be advised to use taxis to collect patients.

Nadra Ahmed, of the National Care Association, said the strike action would “compound” the issue of delayed discharges. She told The Telegraph some of her members have reported having plenty of beds for patients, but are yet to be contacted by nearby hospitals.

“We should be under no illusion that the part of the reason that we haven’t been able to discharge smoothly [in the past] will be based around the fact that the packages of care have not been in place, so I’m not sure how we can work miracles by doing it within a few hours tomorrow,” she said.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said there was a “crucial balance” between sending patients home ahead of the strike action and rushing discharges.

“On the one hand, the sooner someone can go home the better, especially with Christmas on the way, but on the other the right support must be in place for them, to keep them safe and enable them to recover well,” she said.

“We know that home care shortages are delaying discharges in many places, but hospitals mustn’t cut corners where frail older people are concerned, or they will solve one problem but create another, potentially putting older people at risk in their own homes.” 

‘Patient safety and care is at our core’

Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said this week will be “particularly tough for those working in urgent and emergency care”.

He added: “We continue to take great pride in the work our teams are doing. We are not currently providing the standards of care we hope to deliver, but at all times patient safety and care is at our core.

“We will work tirelessly to support patients and hopefully be able to discharge many patients so they can spend the Christmas holiday with their family.”

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has vowed to stage a fresh wave of more severe strikes in January if there is no movement from ministers on pay in the 48 hours after its members walk out on Tuesday.

Mr Dowden said “our door is always open to engagement with the unions”, but he maintained the official position that the RCN’s demand for a pay rise of five per cent above inflation is “simply not affordable”.

He argued there is “logic” in sticking to the recommendations of the NHS’s independent pay review body because they are “supposed to take the politics out of this”.

“I would say to people across the private and the public sector… we’re trying to be reasonable, we’re trying to be proportionate and we’re trying to be fair,” he told BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg.

“But in return, the unions need to be fair and reasonable. They should call off these strikes and give people a break.”

He insisted that the public would be able to rely on ambulance services for life-threatening injuries during the strike action.

But he said those with “less serious injuries should… seek to make your way to hospital on your own if you are able to do so”.

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