ED Miliband promised to draft in extra nurses to help ease pressure on the NHS if he wins the next election - as the British Red Cross was drafted in to help hospitals cope with the worst A&E crisis in a decade.
The NHS has been thrust into the political spotlight after figures release this week revealed it missed its four hour A&E waiting time target with performance dropping to its lowest level in 10 years.
More than a dozen hospitals enacted emergency measures this week while some patients were forced to wait 12 hours for a bed as A&E units struggled to cope.
The British Red Cross charity, which delivers aid in war and natural disaster zones, has been drafted in by some hospitals to help transport patients.
And there are fears a mutated version of the flu virus could pile on further pressure to the stricken service. Doctors said the number of patients admitted to A&E with the respiratory illnesses had doubled.
Amid fears the NHS is buckling under the pressure of an ageing and increasingly frail population, the Labour leader came up with a five-point plan to bolster the service.
He said patients would be given quicker access to family doctors and GPs could also be installed in hospitals to cool pressure on the straining service.
More nurses would be employed to staff the 111 helpline service to put an end to what Labour described as the “computer says go to A&E” approach.
It would also get councils, the NHS and charities to work together to identify people at highest risk of hospital admission and offer them the support while walk-in centre closures would be halted.
Mr Miliband said: “The Tories want to blame the patients - but the NHS is in crisis because of decisions made by David Cameron.
His Government has made it harder for families to see a GP while cuts in social care have left vulnerable and elderly people at risk.
“Clearing up this mess will require the long term investment only Labour is prepared to make - 8,000 extra GPs, 5,000 more homecare workers, 3,000 more midwives and 20,000 additional nurses.
“But the scale of the current crisis also demands immediate action.
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“If I was prime minister we would be taking action now to ease pressure on A&E by helping families see a GP, getting more nurses answering calls to NHS 111, halting the closures of walk-in centres, tackling the scandal of social care, and recruiting former nurses back into the NHS to help deal with staffing pressures.”
The British Red Cross has stepped in transport some patients home after they were discharged from A&E in Sheffield, where Deputy Prime Minister’s Nick Clegg is an MP.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said they were currently facing an “unusual demand” and were very busy at this time.
They are using the charity to help transport patients who are fit enough to leave A&E, but the Red Cross is not providing health care to patients, the hospital’s duty matron said.
Andy Peers, British Red Cross operations manager for Yorkshire said: “This is the first time we have provided such support in Sheffield - but we have highly trained volunteers and an extensive fleet of ambulance vehicles across the country, used regularly to support NHS ambulance services during both routine work and periods of high demand.”
Meanwhile doctors have warned a strain of mutated flu not covered by the seasonal vaccine is contributing to a significant rise in emergency hospital admissions.
Dr Ben Marshall, a specialist in respiratory medicine at Southampton General Hospital, said the number of patients admitted with respiratory illnesses had doubled.
Around half were found to have the influenza A H3 virus, a severe strain of the virus which is included in the annual seasonal influenza vaccine but, this year, has mutated.
He said: “We have seen the number of patients, mainly those who have respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, being admitted as medical emergencies increase from 25 to 30 a day to more than 50 a day.”
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