The Liberal Democrats have called on Health Secretary Sajid Javid to guarantee that everyone will be able to access the emergency care they need over the festive period, and provide a rescue plan to support A&E services.
It comes amid concerns over the crippling staff shortages in the NHS with the Royal College of Physicians warning one in ten doctors are already off with Covid.
The Christmas period is often one of the busiest times of year for A&Es, but hospitals are facing even more pressure this year as the surge in the Omicron variant means thousands of staff are set to be absent. Ambulance services which were already on their highest level of alert are also struggling with the impact of staff being off with Covid.
Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper has written to Sajid Javid calling on him to guarantee that people will be able to access the emergency care they need over Christmas. She has called on the Health Secretary to provide the three following guarantees:
Access to A&Es: No-one needing urgent care should be turned away from an A&E because of a lack of capacity.
Ambulance waiting times: Patients facing life-threatening illnesses or injuries (category one) must be responded to within the target waiting time of 7 minutes.
111 number: People who need medical advice must be able to get through to the 111 number without facing long delays.
The Liberal Democrats are also calling for contingency plans to make sure emergency services in all regions of the UK can provide support to the NHS if needed, for example by providing staff from fire services as has already happened in London. The party is also calling for the military to be on hand to help drive ambulances if needed.
Liberal Democrat Health and Social Care Spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said: “Health leaders are warning that hospitals and ambulance services face devastating staff shortages due to Omicron.
“Sajid Javid must put in place a rescue plan for A&Es over the festive period, including plans to bring in staff from other emergency services and the military if needed. He should also provide specific guarantees that people will be able to access the emergency care they need.
“The public deserves to know that ambulances will arrive on time, that anyone who needs urgent care won’t be turned away from A&E and that people who need urgent medical advice can access it.
“This Christmas, families everywhere in England need reassurance that if they do get seriously sick or injured, the NHS will be able to care for them.”