NHS is 'collapsing and it's getting worse', union warns

Health secretary Steve Barclay is shown a chart of A&E waiting times on the BBC last month. The BMA union said today the NHS is collapsing. (PA)
Health secretary Steve Barclay is shown a chart of A&E waiting times on the BBC last month. The BMA union said today the NHS is collapsing. (PA)

A trade union has suggested the NHS is on the verge of collapse.

Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council, said she is “almost certain” the situation will continue to get worse.

It comes after another week of bleak figures relating to the performance of the NHS, including waiting lists at a record high and A&E departments experiencing their worst performance on record.

The NHS was labelled as “bursting at the seams” and Dr Runswick said on Sunday it is “collapsing”.

Asked if she has ever seen such a dire situation in the health service, she told Sky News: “I think the honest answer is no, we haven’t ever seen it this bad.

Watch: Sunday's politics briefing

“We have got such extreme levels of vacancy [for tens of thousands of doctors and nurses].

“We absolutely can’t meet the demand that we have on the service… it means we can’t do as well as we want to for patients.”

She said the government needs to tackle pay, pensions and working conditions to keep staff in the NHS, rather than just focus on recruitment.

“The NHS is already collapsing and has been for some time now,” she said, adding she is “almost certain” they are going to see a “worsening situation”.

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“I do think more people will die and that is not something we want, and there are some solutions to that but currently the government won’t even speak to us.”

The government is currently facing waves of strike action from various sectors, with Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members due to take part in unprecedented strike action on 15 December and 20 December. Ambulance workers are also set to strike on December 21.

The BMA, which represents 173,000 UK doctors, will also open a ballot on 9 January for industrial action by its 45,000 junior doctors in England.

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The BMA is demanding a 25% pay rise. Asked if the union honestly believes the government will grant this, Dr Runswick said: “It’s only as steep as the money that we’ve lost. The government has continued to give us lower than inflation pay awards year after year.”

Health secretary Steve Barclay, meanwhile, has criticised planned strikes amid the pressure on the NHS.

“In a winter when we’re worrying about COVID, flu and Strep A – on top of the COVID backlogs – I am deeply concerned about the risks of strike action to patients,” Barclay said in the Sun on Sunday.

“We are working hard to make sure patients experience as little disruption as possible. But with the NHS already under pressure due to the COVID pandemic and coming winter, the risks to patients will be significant."