A man turned up to an accident and emergency department in the Midlands complaining about ear wax on the day a hospital declared a critical incident, a nurse who works there has said.
Lesley Meaney, a sister at University Hospitals of North Midlands (UNHM), said the patient presented to A&E with “no pain, no discomfort, just eat war wax!”
Earlier on 30 December officials at the trust declared a critical incident, citing “extremely high demand for all of our services.”
The disclosure by Ms Meaney underlines the scale of the challenge facing the NHS and staff working in hospitals across the country.
Medics say the health service is in the teeth of its biggest-ever “crisis”, with backlogs in services exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
Cases of Covid and the flu are also rising amid the colder winter months. NHS services have also been hit by a series of strikes by workers in a row over pay and conditions.
Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, on Tuesday said that the government has been “up front” about the problems facing the NHS, which he has described as a “challenge” rather than a crisis.
Writing on Twitter, Ms Meaney added: “Seriously what is up with the general population? A major incident declared, ambulances queuing, and you decide to come to the emergency department on New Year’s Eve with ear wax.”
According to Labour Party analysis of NHS data, some five million people were unable to book a GP appointment in October.
Some patients decide to go to A&E whenever they can’t see a doctor.
Responding to Ms Meaney’s Twitter post, Tracy Bullock, UNHM chief executive, said: “Oh for goodness sake.I do hope they were sent immediately home.”
“Ear wax is not an accident or an emergency. No wonder we are stuffed!”
Dr Matthew Lewis, medical director at UNHM, said: “The accident & emergency departments at UHNM are some of the busiest in the country so we would urge the public to only come to our Emergency Departments if it’s for serious, life-threatening conditions that need immediate medical attention, such as persistent severe chest pain, loss of consciousness, acute confusion, severe blood loss, serious burns, broken bones, suspected stroke.
“We work with our NHS partners to ensure people are seen in the right place at the right time and would ask public to contact NHS 111, speak to their GP or pharmacist or attend a walk in centre or minor injuries unit if their symptoms are not life-threatening.”
Mr Sunak was due to deliver a major speech on Wednesday afternoon to set out his priorities for the year ahead.
He was expected to specifically address the problems in the NHS and pledge to take personal responsibility for fixing them.
In addition to the backlog in services, there are also huge staff shortages in the NHS.
In the summer MPs said that the number of unfilled vacancies posed a serious risk to patient safety.
A report by the health and social care committee, published in July, found England was short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives.
Speaking to broadcasters on Wednesday morning Rosina Allin-Khan, Labour’s shadow mental health minister, said the state of the NHS is an “acute crisis”.
Ms Allin-Khan, who is a doctor as well as an MP, told Sky News her party has a “workforce plan” to alleviate the staffing crisis.
“We would train an extra 10,000 nurses and midwives every year, we would double the number of medical school places, we would have 5,000 extra health visitors, we would improve our mental heath services,” she said.
Dr Allin-Khan added: “Currently doctors and nurses are broken, they are absolutely broken.
“Two-thirds of junior doctors want to leave the workforce, we have nurses leaving in droves, we have more mental health sick days taken than even Covid or flu from medical staff.”
Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said the NHS is facing some of the “biggest demand” it has ever seen.
Asked about the “challenge” facing the NHS, he told TalkTV: “It is significant – there is no doubt about it. The health service is facing some of the biggest demand it has ever seen.
“What we need to do is concentrate now on recruiting more people and getting back to a more normal service.”
Responding to questions about the recent strikes, the MP added that health workers also needed “proper pay and conditions”.