Welsh health board declares ‘internal critical incident’ due to unprecedented demand

An internal critical incident has been declared by a health board in Wales due to unprecedented demand on NHS services.

Betsi Cadwaladr health board, which provides services in North Wales, described demand in recent days as “unprecedented”.

It said this was due to a combination of winter viruses, parents seeking help due to concerns about Strep A and injuries related to the cold weather.

The board said the Royal College of Nursing industrial action due to take place on Tuesday and the Wales Ambulance Service strike on Wednesday would limit its ability to respond even further.

The critical incident had been declared because “we are struggling to cope with the prolonged, significant demand on the health system in North Wales”, a board spokeswoman said.

“As a result, we have postponed all but the most urgent procedures in our hospitals,” they said.

“We regret that this will impact on a number of patients who were due to receive planned care over the next few days and sincerely apologise to all those affected, who will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

“The demand on services right across the health system over recent days has been unprecedented due to a combination of winter viruses, parents seeking help due to concerns about Strep A and injuries associated with the cold weather.

“This has meant extremely long waits for patients to be seen – particularly at our hospital emergency departments.

“The Royal College of Nursing industrial action that is due to take place again on Tuesday and the Wales Ambulance Service action on Wednesday will limit our ability to respond even further.”

They said discussions with the trade unions about the industrial action were ongoing.

“Staff working in these services will be able to strike only if there is sufficient cover available to ensure patient safety,” the spokeswoman said.

“As last week, we will contact patients directly if any services they are due to access on days of industrial action are affected.”

Russell George, Welsh Conservative health spokesman, said the Welsh Government needed a plan of action to deal with the crisis.

“It is, sadly, a tale as old as time for staff and patients in the region who have been let down by the way the NHS has been run there by the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay,” he said.

“We need to hear urgently from Labour’s Health Minister to know what the plan of action is, especially with more strikes from nurses and ambulance workers imminent – patients must have confidence that they can access the safe healthcare their taxes pay for.

“When we see that the problem is insufficient beds, it stings all the more when we know Labour has cut a third of NHS beds in the devolution era and have waited so long to address bed-blocking where healthy people are stuck in hospital because they cannot be discharged somewhere safe.”

Plaid Cymru health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth, who represents Ynys Mon in North Wales, said: “Declaring a critical incident may be understandable when things are as bad as they are being described by the health board.

“But the question is, why is the NHS having to operate at maximum capacity and beyond? It can’t.”

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