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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The National Health Service is on red alert tonight"
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Health Secretary, Alan Milburn
"In some places, drugs, food and medical supplies are now running short"
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Stephen Thornton, NHS Confederation
"A very serious situation for the NHS"
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Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
NHS on 'red alert'
Ambulance
Many ambulances are only answering emergencies
The NHS has been put on "Red Alert" by the government amid fears the fuel crisis could cripple hospitals.

All local health services have been instructed to put into practice their emergency procedures.


The NHS is increasingly hour by hour unable to do its job properly

Alan Milburn, Health Secretary

This means that at a moment's notice all hospitals must be able to cancel everything else and treat only emergency cases.

The move follows reports of operations being cancelled, a sharp reduction in ambulance services and low supplies of drugs, blood and other vital equipment.

Click here to read about the effect on the NHS

Prime Minister Tony Blair said the blockade of oil refineries was risking lives.

"It is not just hospitals that need fuel. It is the drivers and nurses that work there and the patients themselves.

"Lives are at risk if these people cannot get to work."

However, politicians have suggested the government may be exaggerating the problems facing the NHS.

Dr Liam Fox, Conservative Party spokesman on Health, said reports that some hospitals were in difficulty on Tuesday had proved false.

"Yesterday, the Department of Health gave us a whole range of examples of hospitals which they said were cancelling operations. Those hospitals denied that was true."

He added: "If it turns out the government are using this to hide their incompetence in running the health service, I think it is very damaging to the Health Secretary himself."

Rare measure

Health Secretary Alan Milburn insisted the "Red Alert" - the first in 11 years - was necessary and the crisis in the NHS was increasing hour by hour.

Speaking at a press conference at St Thomas' Hospital, London, Mr Milburn stressed the need for those involved in the petrol blockades to know that their action was hitting the emergency services hard.


If it turns out the government are using this to hide their incompetence in running the health service, I think it is very damaging to the Health Secretary

Dr Liam Fox, Shadow Health Secretary

"I have this afternoon instructed local health services in all parts of the country to put into place their emergency planning procedures.

"What this means is all parts of the NHS will now need to have, if they haven't already got contingency plans in place for dealing with emergencies only."

Mr Milburn said the blockade was causing serious problems for NHS staff and patients.

"Those involved in this blockade need to know the very serious effect their actions are already having on the national health service and indeed the effect their actions will continue to have should it continue.

"While some fuel is being moved out of the refineries, the situation within the health is very difficult indeed.

"Doctors, nurses and NHS staff, the people who deliver essential services are being prevented from doing their job properly for patients.

"Staff are unable to get to work. Patients are unable to get to hospital. In some hospitals, operations are now being cancelled and the monitoring we have in place suggests that in some places drugs, food and medical supplies are now running short.

"The NHS is increasingly hour by hour unable to do its job properly. Claims that emergency services are being supplied with fuel are simply not good enough.

"The reality is that essential NHS services are being hit hard. There is only one way for the threat now to be lifted from patients."

The Health Secretary called on the protesters to end their campaign.

"The oil companies must now step up delivers, the drivers should drive, the blockades should go home.

"They need to know the impact their actions are having on NHS patients and NHS services. They have made their point. Enough is enough."

Emergency meetings

Hospitals and health authorities across Britain held emergency meetings on Wednesday morning to tackle the crisis amid reports that the NHS was 24 hours from collapse.

According to the Department of Health, many hospitals have cancelled operations and supplies of blood, medicine and other essentials were running low because of fuel shortages.

Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "This is a very, very serious development.

"I think it really does require the protestors to take one step back for calm reflection, but equally the government to try to take one step forward to demonstrate that they are willing in due course in a calm, socially stable atmosphere in the country to address some of the concerns that have lead to the chaos we are seeing."

Stephen Thornton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "If it continues this is going to be a very serious situation, and the health service needs to be prepared for it."

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See also:

13 Sep 00 | Health
Fuel crisis brings chaos to NHS
12 Sep 00 | Health
Fuel: how the NHS could suffer
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