Deaths caused by delays in emergency care are grim evidence of the price of NHS underfunding
If the cause was a plane crash or a natural disaster, the needless deaths of 500 people might be declared a national emergency. Not so with the NHS crisis. At least 511 people died in England last year after ambulances in some cases took up to 15 hours to reach them. More than half of paramedics have seen a patient die due to a delay involving an ambulance, or another part of the care system. Coroners have written to ministers warning of a crisis that is proving deadly. It is compounded by the deaths of patients in ambulances queueing outside emergency departments, and the deaths of people inside A&E departments who are waiting 12 or more hours to be seen.
Rishi Sunak insists his government is working to improve emergency waiting times. The public aren’t convinced. Support for the government’s handling of the NHS crisis in England has reached a new low; only 8% of people think ministers have the right policies for the health service. Although response times for ambulance calls have improved since the winter, when callers waited longer than ever in England for ambulances to arrive, the current response time for a category two call – those for serious conditions, such as heart attacks or stroke – is still 32 minutes, nearly twice the 18-minute target.