Nurses deliver a vote of no confidence in Health Secretary Andrew Lansley as a leading casualty doctor warns hospitals are “struggling to cope” with increased demand and limited facilities.
He is the first Health Secretary to face a vote of this type from nurses for decades.
Mr Lansley is not giving a speech at the congress – causing some nurses to suggest he lacks “guts” – but will instead speak to a group of nurses later, in private, to try and allay their concerns over cuts and changes to the NHS. The outcome of the no confidence motion suggests he may have an uphill battle.
While the reforms are currently on hold as the Coalition Government consults further, the Royal College of Nursing is also extremely worried by spending and job cuts for the health service.
On Monday, the organisation released figures suggesting that up to 40,000 jobs could go in the NHS – around half of which would be clinical posts.
Chief Executive Dr Peter Carter said: “Cutting thousands of frontline doctors and nurses could have a catastrophic impact on patient safety and care. Our figures expose the myth that frontline staff and services are protected.”
Read more in the Channel 4 News Special Report: NHS uncovered
However, doctors are warning that the NHS already faces major pressures with limited resources – which more spending cuts would only exacerbate.
John Heyworth, President of the College of Emergency Medicine, told The Guardian that the system was “struggling to cope”.
“The emergency care system is struggling to cope at the moment. Many departments spend their time firefighting because of the number of patients coming in, the limited number of emergency department staff and limited availability of beds,” he said.
NHS figures show that waiting times have jumped 65 per cent since the Coalition Government scrapped waiting time targets. In June, Mr Lansley relaxed the four-hour waiting time target and the new data shows that 292,052 people waited for more than four hours from July to December 2010. This compares to 176,522 people for the corresponding period in 2009.
Mr Heyworth said Britain still has a “very fragile” system of accident and emergency care, even though demand has increased.
“”We are now seeing more of everything: more and more patients every year with a wide variety of medical problems, all of which require A&E staff’s expertise,” he said.
Among those needing emergency care were more elderly people, children, patients with chest pains and people with breathing conditions, Mr Heyworth said.
“The vast majority of patients who come to A&E really need to be here. They aren’t wasting our time, ” he added.