Jon Trickett MP writes: But years of under-funding and political interference by the Tory government along with the Covid pandemic have put a strain on all our health services.
Due to this government’s actions, we are now hearing worrying stories about our local NHS. To cope, Leeds University Hospitals is delaying operations to make way for an anticipated surge in hospitalisations. And Yorkshire Ambulance Service is warning of waits due to staff shortages.
Covid cases have been at their highest point recently. In recent weeks, nearly one in every 40 people in the Leeds and Wakefield areas are affected. In Hemsworth it was nearer one in 30.
Luckily, the Omicron variant seems to have milder symptoms than earlier ones. But hospitalisations are rising.
There are currently more than 200 patients in Leeds University Hospitals with Covid. And more than 100 more in Mid Yorkshire Hospitals.
Knowing an NHS ambulance will turn up and get you quickly to the care you need is what reassures us. There have been a lot of stories about people waiting for ambulances recently, with many forced into long queues at hospitals.
I know very well that this is no fault of the dedicated and hardworking staff.
So I asked the health secretary about ambulance response times for people calling for help from Yorkshire Ambulance Service. It turns out they’ve increased significantly in the past two years.
In 2019-20 it was around seven minutes for the most urgent responses, now it is nearly ten minutes.
For the most serious ambulance calls, delays of this length carry serious consequences.
For the lowest priority types of calls, it was previously less than an hour, now it’s more like two hours 30 minutes.
But spare a thought for our NHS response teams and our Yorkshire Ambulance Service staff. They are doing a tough job in an underfunded service.
As with our hospitals, ambulance staff are having to cope with Covid on the frontline. Let’s remember that they’re also dealing with more calls. Yorkshire Ambulance Service answered 72,000 calls in November. Twelve months before, they answered 42,000. That’s a huge increase.
This could be because the government has closed nearly 200 GP surgeries in Yorkshire since 2010, leaving people unable to access the medical help they need from their local doctor.
And at the same time, Yorkshire Ambulance Service reported staff sickness of around 10 per cent of the workforce with an increase of those isolating due to Covid.
We all have to play our part to prevent the circulation of Covid, but the reality is the government has a job to do to support our NHS staff.
There are still 100,000 vacancies in the health service across the UK and too many burnt-out staff are leaving.
So rather than a new round of reform and privatisation under the current health and care bill, we need to ensure NHS staff are properly rewarded for the sacrifices they make.
The government can start by awarding them a serious pay increase in this year’s pay round and protecting the founding principle of free public healthcare for all, no matter the size of your wallet.