Busiest November on record causes pressure for NHS

By Helen Adams
November 2021 was the busiest on record for hardened NHS staff. With a maternity crisis and rampant Covid, December looks likely to pass this record

NHS staff in the UK answered the largest number of emergency calls for any November on record, at an average of one every three seconds.

This was the second busiest November on record for Accident & Emergency (A&E) with over two million patients seen at urgent treatment centres - more than half a million more from the same time last year.

As cases of Omicron rise, dedicated NHS staff are exhausted.

Midwives especially, have called attention to the “urgent maternity crisis” across the UK’s NHS health services. While some dedicated staff are holding vigils for change - others are leaving the NHS altogether, to move in private healthcare.


NHS director praises staff

New weekly data also shows that, on average, there were 10,500 patients each day (within one week) who no longer needed to be in hospital, but were not discharged that day, with pressures outside hospitals also high. Therefore, one in ten beds were occupied by patients who were medically fit to leave.

“These figures show that NHS staff are continuing to address the COVID backlog in the face of sustained pressure on urgent and emergency care”, Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director. “As we head into a very challenging winter, we are working with partners in social care to get as many patients who are fit to do so home for Christmas, which is right for them and their families as well as freeing up beds.

“Thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers the NHS COVID vaccination programme has delivered more than 100mn jabs, so do come forward when it is your turn”.


Maternity crisis

The pandemic had led to significant staff shortages, due to sickness and quarantine. The March with Midwives group has called the UK’s maternity services “critically unsafe” and is leaving women and babies at risk.

The UK’s maternity record has already been under the lens of public scrutiny this year.

A study, published in the MBRRACE-UK report, which focused on births between 2017-2019 showed that:

  • Black women are still four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women
  • Asian and mixed-ethnicity women were also two times more likely to die than white women the


Philanthropic organisation Birthrights is conducting an inquiry into racial injustice in UK healthcare.

‘While there has been a small drop in the maternal mortality rate for Black women in recent MBRRACE reports, this bleak picture has not changed in over a decade”, said Amy Gibbs, Chief Executive of Birthrights. “We remain deeply concerned that Black and Brown people’s basic human rights to safety, dignity and equality in pregnancy and childbirth are not being protected, respected or upheld.”


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