Newspaper review: 'Hospitals just can't cope'
Britain's A&E departments are in "a critical condition", the Independent says, echoing the medical jargon many of the papers use to describe the severe capacity crisis afflicting the NHS's emergency service.
In a series of front page graphics, the paper traces the growth of Britain's elderly population; the decline in numbers receiving state care outside of hospitals; the soaring numbers of patients waiting more than four hours in A&E wards; and the 14 NHS hospitals which have declared "major incidents" as they struggle to cope with the number of people arriving for treatment.
The paper underlines five issues it says have driven the crisis: winter illness, cuts to social care, an ageing population, long waits to see GPs, and referrals from the NHS111 telephone helpline.
A&E consultant Dr Bernadette Garrihy writes an article for the paper detailing a typical day in her hospital unit.
"As A&E nurses and doctors, we tend to be a resilient lot; we thrive on the high pressure, the fast pace, the variety of patients and cases.
"I have a moment to reflect on how the relentless nature of working in A&E is 'turning and burning' (turning off and burning out) so many colleagues, before the emergency doors slide open again, and another ambulance stretcher is wheeled in to take our queue up to an even dozen," she writes.
Another A&E consultant, Dr Steve Crowder, picks up the theme in the Daily Express.
"Only a huge effort by all levels of staff kept a marginal degree of control of the situation," he writes.
"But these circumstances are not unusual so far this winter.
"How do staff cope with a seemingly never-ending onslaught?"
The Times front page expands on questions being asked of the NHS 111 telephone helpline service.
The paper says inexperienced call handlers are referring patients to A&E units "needlessly" - especially on weekends - while others fail to spot genuine emergencies.
The paper features the case of Christine Gayther who dialled the service after her husband collapsed with an aortic aneurysm, but gave up after being asked about their ethnicity and whether the household owned a dog.
Highlighting the political side of the story, the Guardian's Patrick Wintour says, "David Cameron's worst fears about the NHS were realised yesterday as it became clear that a £700m record injection to prevent a winter crisis in accident and emergency departments has not been enough.
"Instead, the prime minister faces the prospect of worse waiting time figures being published weekly from now to the start of the election campaign in March."
The Daily Mail quotes Tory MPs who have accused Labour of "hypocrisy" and "using the crisis to make political capital".
The paper says the MPs say the problem has its roots in "Labour's botched 2003 contract which allowed GPs to opt out of out-of-hours care, meaning people often have no choice but to go to A&E".
The Daily Mirror, unsurprisingly, takes an opposing view.
Its editorial says the NHS has gone backwards under Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister David Cameron.
"Money and recruiting extra doctors and nurses is part of the answer, but so is ending the closure of NHS walk-in centres and reversing the expensive and destructive Health and Social Care Act reorganisation," it says.
"Energy bills must start to fall now," is how the Daily Telegraph headlines a story about the Treasury investigation into whether companies are passing on savings made from falling fuel prices.
"One [Treasury] source said that the Chancellor would be watching utilities companies and airlines 'like a hawk' in the coming weeks and months to see if they were reducing prices.
"If they do not pass on the unprecedented price falls, Mr Osborne could be forced to intervene and formally call on the utilities companies and airlines to reduce prices," the paper reports.
Whether falling wholesale prices will be reflected in falling bills is a matter of some debate.
British Gas - the UK's biggest energy supplier tells the paper, "We buy our gas well in advance - up to 3 years in some cases - to ensure security of supply and to smooth out price volatility, so movements in wholesale prices do not feed through immediately to retail prices.
"The details of our hedging strategy are commercially sensitive so we are unable to comment on how we have reacted to specific events."
The Guardian says the move from George Osborne's department will be "seen as an attempt to neutralise attacks from Labour, after Ed Miliband took on energy companies last year with his pledge to freeze energy bills for 20 months if elected on 7 May.
"The sharp drop [in oil prices] hit stock markets but petrol stations have already passed on some of the drop in prices at the pump, bringing relief to households and a welcome pre-election boost to the Conservatives as UK petrol prices hit a five-year low.
"The average price for a litre of petrol is now 111p, according to government data, and the bookmaker Ladbrokes has slashed the odds on it falling below the £1 mark before the month is out."
The paper's editorial says as oil prices sink, the "temptation to fritter away precious power" grows and efforts to find less environmentally damaging alternative sources of power weaken.
" If the free market is doing less work in rationing carbon, that means government must do more," it adds, as the clock is ticking "remorselessly down towards climate catastrophe".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in London for talks with David Cameron.
"The economy, Ukraine and EU", will be on Mrs Merkel's agenda, the Daily Telegraph says.
"Downing Street said the pair's talks would focus on Germany's agenda for its G7 presidency, although Mr Cameron's proposals to reshape the European Union and its relationship with its member states could also be discussed," the paper says.
Its headline says that the German leader will give Labour leader Ed Miliband "a miss" on her visit, although a Labour spokesman says his party had not been notified of Mrs Merkel's visit in advance by the government.
The Financial Times says the visit offers the two leaders an opportunity of a "fresh start" on a relationship which has "rarely been an easy one".
"Mrs Merkel could be forgiven for wondering what new pledges Mr Cameron will consider necessary to see off the UKIP assault.
"In their talks the chancellor will want to restate that there are limits to what Germany can deliver in any treaty renegotiation.
"The prime minister would be wise to listen," it adds.
However, the Times reports that Mrs Merkel is "poised" to deliver a boost to Mr Cameron by supporting his plan to cut benefits sent abroad to the children of migrants working in this country.
Elsewhere in the paper, its Berlin correspondent Roger Boyes says Mrs Merkel will be disappointed with "British parochialism" and the fact that the UK "continues to act as if it is indispensable to the European project, when all the facts suggest it is already speeding towards the periphery.
Boyes says British Tories' hopes that anti-Islamisation protests in Germany would drive the chancellor into making common cause with anti-immigration politicians here are misjudged.
Mrs Merkel told her nation not to "follow those who have called the rallies because all too often they have prejudice, a frostiness, even hatred in their hearts", Boyes reports, adding "we don't hear that kind of talk from David Cameron".
The Guardian's foreign affairs columnist Simon Tisdall says, "Cameron can only watch as Merkel runs Europe."
He adds, "The gulf in the power and influence wielded by the two leaders on the world stage is embarrassingly wide.
"Cameron, who has never shown much flair for foreign policy, is increasingly narrowly focused on a May election that could spell political oblivion.
"Merkel, in contrast, halfway through her third consecutive term in office, is juggling multiple international challenges with the self-assurance of a leader without peers in the EU who represents Europe's biggest economy.
"Where Merkel offers a globally applicable humanitarian vision, Cameron offers migrant welfare curbs."
In their potentially tense negotiations, it is not known if David Cameron and Angela Merkel will discuss what the Financial Times tells us is "a small grilled sausage" which "has become the unlikely symbol of German resistance to a transatlantic trade deal."
The sausage, the Nurnberger Rostbratwurst, is one of 200 German foods protected as a regional speciality by the EU, but whose uniqueness could be threatened by the ongoing TTIP treaty negotiations.
"Not every sausage can be protected," German agriculture minister Christian Schmidt has conceded, provoking outrage.
"We don't want Nurnberger Rostbratwurst from Kentucky, and Tennessee whiskey from Baden Baden!" a horrified spokeswoman for the German food producers' lobby said.
The sausage, the FT notes, has been subject to "strict local regulation" since the 14th century, and Rostbratwurst failing Nurenburg's high standards are dumped in the local river, it adds.
From high-quality sausages, to low-quality cakes.
The Daily Telegraph reports that police in Serbia are on the tail of an "organised gang" who removed 18,000 mouldy raspberry topped treats from a landfill site to sell on the black market.
The cakes - originally destined for Western Europe before problems with refrigeration tainted them - have begun to appear in "shady places at suspicious prices", a local official tells the paper.
The thieves - who appear to be mainly council workers - have "shown a contemptuous attitude to public health", he added.
The Telegraph's other eye-catching, but less gut-wrenching story, concerns clocks.
The paper reports that this year will be a second longer than last year, to allow atomic clocks to adjust to reflect the gradual slowing of the earth's rotation.
The "leap second" will take place at 11:59:60 on 30 June, the paper reports, before adding somewhat inevitably, "software companies are bracing themselves for problems".
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