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More than a million patients set to face huge waits in emergency departments as NHS braces for its 'worst-ever' winter, warns BMA

New analysis from the BMA shows that over one million patients1 could experience waits of over four hours at emergency departments this winter and almost a third of a million2 patients could wait on trolleys to be treated. 

The report3 published today warns that the NHS is on track to endure its worst-ever winter as analysis of A&E four-hour wait times, A&E admissions and attendances, and trolley waits in England suggest that pressures on services look set to skyrocket in the coming months.

Ahead of the upcoming election, the doctors’ union is calling on the next Government to prioritise the NHS as it warns of a ‘perfect storm’ caused by widespread failure to manage patient need over the worst-ever summer, along with staff shortages, a potentially cold winter and bad flu season, as well as the impact of Brexit.

In its Manifesto for health4 launched today, the BMA is calling for health spending to be increased by at least 4.1 per cent each year to get the NHS “back on a sustainable footing” and for the punitive pension tax system, which is driving senior doctors out of the workforce, to be scrapped.

Commenting on the report and as the BMA publishes its election manifesto, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said:

“Enough is enough. Right across the health service, trusts and GP practices will be bracing themselves for what looks set to be the worst winter the NHS has ever endured.

“Patients should not fear needing hospital care or being able to see their GP, nor should they have to accept that they may spend hours on a trolley in an emergency department, waiting to be treated. 

“Similarly, staff working in hospitals and GP practices across the country should not be facing the daunting prospect of having to care for those patients in these relentlessly pressurised environments.

“This perfect storm is brewing alongside the upcoming general election and politicians should be paying close attention to the fall out of failure to invest in and support our health service for over a decade.

“Though the need for urgent funding this winter is pressing, this is not just about the short-term fix.

“This is about the current, and any future government, putting the NHS back on a sustainable footing, with capacity to meet the demands on its services.

“It is about having a sufficient number of beds and facilities, an adequately staffed workforce that is ready and motivated to meet rising pressures, prioritising healthcare prevention, and putting patient care back in the focus.”

Manifesto for health

In its Manifesto for health, the BMA has set out its key priorities for the next Government:

  • Increase spending on health by 4.1% each year to put the NHS on a sustainable long-term footing;
  • Scrap the punitive pension tax system for the NHS which is driving senior doctors out of the workforce;
  • Place healthcare prevention at the heart of the healthcare system with stronger action on smoking, alcohol misuse, physical inactivity and poor diet;
  • Let the public have the final say on any Brexit deal;
  • Legislate for safe staffing to ensure system-level accountability so that individual clinicians are not blamed when the system places them under unmanageable pressure;
  • Pay doctors fairly in a way that truly values our medical workforce and helps to retain staff.

Pressures on the frontline 

 Speaking to the BMA’s The Doctor5 magazine, one Midlands emergency medicine consultant said the summer had been “absolutely brutal”.

The consultant added: “It’s really corrosive for staff because they are coming into work with patients lining the corridor – we have been putting patients onto bits of corridor we have never used before – we are actually expanding into new areas. There have been cardiac arrests on the corridor in a number of places.”

Another south-west specialty trainee in emergency medicine who spoke to The Doctor said: “When you stop to think about winter pressures and how demand is going to go in the next three months, I just don’t know what to think. It is not safe – I can hardly bear to think about it.”


Notes to Editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

The Doctor is the BMA’s award-winning magazine for members.

1. BMA analysis found that, based on A&E waits over four hours from previous winters, the worst-case scenario could see attendances of 1,112,527 this winter (full projections available here).
2. BMA analysis found that, based on trolley waits from previous winters, the worst-case scenario could see 297, 271 patients waiting on trolleys this winter (full projections available here).
3. Read the Manifesto for health here.
4. "BMA report: The NHS and a perfect storm for winter pressures" is can be found here
5. Read The Doctor magazine article "On the cusp of Collapse" here.


For further information please contact:

British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
Telephone: 020 7383 6448 
Email: [email protected]
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