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Theresa May rejects claims of 'humanitarian crisis' in NHS

Theresa May has rejected claims by the British Red Cross of a "humanitarian crisis" in the health system but acknowledged there were "huge pressures" on the NHS.

"I don't accept the description the Red Cross has made of this," the Prime Minister said.

"Yes there are huge pressures on the NHS, but first of all we should thank all the dedicated professionals in the NHS who have been working so hard over what is always a difficult period in terms of the number of people using the NHS - the Christmas and New Year period."

She told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: "Yes there are significant pressures, but we recognise those pressures.

"We asked the NHS a while back to set out what it needed over the next five years in terms of its plan for the future and the funding that it would need. They did that, we gave them that funding, in fact we gave them more funding than they required.

"So funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in."

Mrs May said: "There are pressures in the NHS, we see those pressures. We have an ageing population, this brings pressures, particularly in the interface between the health service and social care.

"We have taken some immediate steps in relation to that issue but we are also looking to ensure best practice in the NHS and looking for a long-term solution to what has been a problem that has been ducked by government over the years.

"The NHS is facing the pressures of the ageing population, that is why it is important that it is the NHS that has produced its five-year plan and is now putting that plan into practice."

Labour has called for Mrs May or Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to make an emergency statement on the NHS when Parliament returns on Monday.

The Red Cross warned of a "humanitarian crisis" in England - a description rejected by NHS England - while the British Medical Association (BMA) said the Government should be "ashamed" of the situation.

The charity's chief executive, Mike Adamson, said extra cash was needed for health and social care to make the system sustainable.

"The British Red Cross is on the front line, responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country," he said.

"We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much-needed beds."

But Keith Willett, director of acute care for NHS England, said "on the international scale of a humanitarian crisis, I do not think the NHS is at that point".

An NHS England spokesman said: "For the past few years winter plans have included contracts with the Red Cross to provide services for councils and the local NHS across England."

The pressures facing the NHS have been laid bare in recent days:

:: Two patients died on trolleys in Worcestershire Royal Hospital's accident and emergency department in the last week

:: The latest figures show overflowing A&E departments shut their doors to patients more than 140 times in December

:: Nuffield Trust analysis showed a third of health trusts in England had issued alerts that they needed urgent action to cope last month, with seven of those unable to provide comprehensive care.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Winter is always a very busy time for the NHS and so to support staff working hard on the front line, we have put in place comprehensive plans earlier than ever, supported by an extra £400 million of funding to help the service cope with additional demand."

British Medical Association chairman Dr Mark Porter said: "Given that the NHS was facing the worst winter on record, the unacceptable absence of additional funding for health and social care in the autumn statement has only further exacerbated the crisis.

"We have seen no signs from the PM since taking office that she understands the gravity of the situation the NHS is facing.

"As lack of beds and inadequate social care funding has prompted the Red Cross to declare a humanitarian crisis in our hospitals, Theresa May cannot continue to bury her head in the sand as the situation in our NHS and social care sector deteriorates.

"Now more than ever, investment in health and social care funding is critical to ease the pressure on acute beds as patients are left to endure some of the worst conditions in decades."

Liberal Democrat spokesman and former health minister Norman Lamb said: "Theresa May is in complete denial about the extent of the crisis facing the NHS.

"The reality is that chronic underfunding by her government is running our health service into the ground. Ministers must come before Parliament and explain to the public what is being done to respond to this crisis, including whether emergency funding will be provided to keep vital services going."

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