Christmas deaths in Eastern England reveal true extent of winter crisis

Twenty grieving families will now, quite rightly, be demanding answers

The true extent of the winter crisis affecting the NHS has become clear, says UNISON today (Wednesday), as it was revealed that 20 deaths might have been avoided in the East of England over Christmas. During this time there were lengthy delays in ambulances responding to 999 calls.

UNISON is calling for an independent inquiry into why the East of England ambulance service remained at crisis point for days over the festive break before admitting it could no longer cope, and asking for assistance.

In a question asked in Parliament today, Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said that the regional ambulance service was under extreme pressure between Christmas and New Year. 

He claimed that even though senior managers at the ambulance trust knew the service was at crisis point on 19 December, they didn’t ask for assistance until 31 December – nearly two weeks later. 

Responding to the claims, UNISON East of England regional secretary Chris Jenkinson said: “The government can no longer deny the true extent of the winter crisis. Between Christmas and New Year, the ambulance service in the East of England was receiving so many 999 calls that it was quite simply unable to cope. 

“Twenty grieving families will now, quite rightly, be demanding answers. They’ll want to know whether their loved ones might still be alive had it not been for the huge delays in ambulances arriving. 

“And ambulance crews across the region, whose job it is to save lives, will want reassurances that the service they work for is still able to keep the public safe.

“There must be an independent inquiry to establish what went wrong, and whether these tragic deaths could have been avoided. Jeremy Hunt can no longer claim the government has given the NHS enough to see it safely through the winter. It clearly hasn’t.

“Even if ambulance managers had appealed to neighbouring ambulance services, it’s unlikely they would have been able to help. The only alternative would have been army ambulances on the streets of Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk. That would have left the public in no doubt as to the depth of the winter crisis affecting the NHS.” 

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