4,000 troops on standby to help the NHS cope if it is in danger of becoming overwhelmed this winter


Could the Army be the answer? 4,000 troops are on standby to help the NHS cope if it is in danger of becoming overwhelmed this winter

  • Scientists are concerned over seasonal pressures on already stretched hospitals
  • Troops are ready to administer vaccines, test for Covid and drive ambulances
  • Emerged yesterday ministers considering ‘restructuring’ the NHS waiting list 


Four thousand troops are on standby to aid the NHS deal with a winter crisis, the Defence Secretary said last night.

Ben Wallace said they are ‘ready to help’ carry out tasks such as administering vaccines, testing for Covid, driving ambulances and providing general support in hospitals.

The revelation is among the surest signs yet that ministers are on ‘a war footing’ ahead of a feared winter crisis in the NHS.

Four thousand troops are on standby to aid the NHS deal with a winter crisis, the Defence Secretary (pictured) said last night

Four thousand troops are on standby to aid the NHS deal with a winter crisis, the Defence Secretary (pictured) said last night

Scientists are increasingly concerned over the impact that coronavirus, flu and other seasonal pressures could have on already stretched hospitals in the weeks ahead.

And it emerged yesterday that ministers in England are considering ‘restructuring’ the NHS waiting list to counter fears that it is becoming overwhelmed.

Many obese patients who are waiting for minor operations but have been told they must first lose weight could be removed from waiting lists.

Last week the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust declared a critical incident, with up to 100 patients waiting to be seen in the emergency department and 25 ambulances waiting outside.

Managers contacted staff asking them to work extra hours to help handle ‘intense pressures’ and families were urged to contact wards if they could provide support to enable someone waiting for home care to leave hospital sooner. 

Ben Wallace said they are ‘ready to help’ carry out tasks such as administering vaccines, testing for Covid, driving ambulances and providing general support in hospitals

Ben Wallace said they are ‘ready to help’ carry out tasks such as administering vaccines, testing for Covid, driving ambulances and providing general support in hospitals

Several Scottish health boards are pleading for further military support to help them cope with soaring demand and to roll out the booster vaccine.

Mr Wallace, speaking in Scotland, said: ‘We’ve got plenty [of armed forces personnel available] and in winter we put on standby thousands of military personnel, mainly because of our experience of floods and things.

‘We have already put on standby something like 4,000-plus people, for the whole of the United Kingdom.’

Pledging that more support will be provided in Scotland if needed, he said: ‘They [the Armed Forces] all belong to the United Kingdom. Nicola Sturgeon might be SNP but if the people of Scotland need the support of defence, they’ll get it.’ However, he warned that additional support from military personnel cannot be used to let devolved governments ‘off the hook’ for policy failings. It will only be provided for the ‘next few months’, or however long the pandemic lasts, but should not be expected beyond that.

Meanwhile, the UK’s top gynaecologist warned last night that NHS maternity services are near breaking point.

Meanwhile, the UK’s top gynaecologist warned last night that NHS maternity services are near breaking point

Meanwhile, the UK’s top gynaecologist warned last night that NHS maternity services are near breaking point

Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘We’re becoming increasingly concerned about the immense pressures facing our maternity staff this winter if the situation continues as it is.

‘With the number of Covid-19 cases rising, the NHS could soon be in a situation where it is unable to deliver the care it needs to or deal with the huge backlog that has already built up.’

He told The Guardian that many women and girls suffering from gynaecological conditions are currently on extensive waiting lists with ‘no end in sight’.

And Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘We are already struggling to cope.

‘This is not something that’s coming in the next couple of months, we are already in a terrible place where we have got large queues of ambulances with vulnerable people waiting to be offloaded into departments and other patients at home waiting to be picked up by the ambulance.’

She told Sky News: ‘The system is incredibly busy. We are already reaching a point where you don’t get an immediate answer when you ring 999.’

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