PROTESTS over the plight of the NHS as a result of the Covid pandemic - which local campaigners and MPs say is responsible for never-before-seen waiting lists for treatment - were held in an effort to secure emergency funding to stave off a ‘crisis’ at Barnsley Hospital.

Last Saturday’s demonstration - held in the town centre - was part of a national day of action that saw events organised in over 70 towns and cities across the country.

Protesters drew attention to what they said was the ‘hardest ever winter for health and social care’ and blamed Covid for adding insurmountable pressure.

Campaign groups such as the Barnsley branch of Save Our NHS have called on ministers to provide an immediate £20bn bailout to ease waiting lists, recruit more staff and fund pay rises.

Secretary Tony Nuttall said: “There are now millions of people on NHS waiting lists and GP and dental services are hard for people to access.

“The NHS was short of 100,000 doctors and nurses, putting staff and patients’ safety at risk.

“As well as this staff have not had a decent pay rise for over a decade.

“The Tory government has pushed through the Health and Care Bill that tackled none of these problems.

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“Instead there’s been a transfer of control of the NHS to regional boards that would include private sector representatives being able to push forward the creeping privatisation.

“Members of the public were urged to contact their MPs about the state of the NHS and to sign a petition demanding that the government provide emergency funding and real pay rises for staff.”

NHS statistics show that there were more than 13,500 people on the waiting list at Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust at the end of 2021.

Staff absence levels hovered between 200 and 250 per day at the start of December, but 625 employees were off work on January 6 - a record-breaking day for absences - due to Covid infections and self-isolation periods.

Under a new plan brought forward by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, the NHS will now have to ensure that by July this year no-one has to wait longer than two years for their planned treatment in the hospital.

However, the current waiting list is expected to keep growing for more than two years as more people seek care - with Mr Javid saying it will ‘get worse before it gets better’.

Stephanie Peacock, MP for Barnsley East, has urged the government to provide a clearer plan to deal with the ‘chronic’ shortage of GPs, doctors and nurses to set clear targets on how to reduce waiting lists and make more appointments available.

She added: “People in Barnsley are being forced to wait months and even years for treatment, often in pain and discomfort.

“It is unacceptable and will have appalling consequences for patients.

“Our local health care staff have worked heroically throughout the pandemic, but they are now stretched like never before.

“I wrote to the Health Secretary to express my concern about this and I have also raised the matter in Parliament.

“It’s clear the NHS is under a huge amount of pressure - since the pandemic, resources have been redirected away from usual services in order to make staff and beds available for treating Covid-19 patients.

“However, even before Covid-19, waiting times were increasing.

“Without sufficient funding and staff, doctors and nurses in Barnsley work hard to meet increasing demand but are not given the support they need to meet it.

“A report from the National Audit Office has warned that the number of people waiting for care could double by March 2025.

“It’s people from places like ours who can’t afford for private healthcare whose health will suffer if the backlog isn’t dealt with and our NHS isn’t given the support it needs.

“The government need to wake up to the oncoming crisis and act now.”