The Port of Dover has announced an end to its critical incident following a weekend of travel chaos which saw some coach passengers caught up in 14-hour-long queues.
The port declared a critical incident on Friday with coaches particularly affected by the traffic as passengers – including school pupils – waited to be processed at border controls.
Those hoping to get away for their Easter break on Sunday night faced a few more hours waiting to be processed at border controls before getting on a ferry.
But in its latest statement on Monday morning, the port said all coach traffic had now been processed through immigration controls.
“The critical incident has been stood down,” the port said in its statement.
“The Port of Dover continued working round the clock with the ferry operators and border agencies to get coach passengers on their way and the backlog is now cleared.
“Along with the final coaches being processed through the port, all tourist cars and freight vehicles were also processed successfully.
“We continue to offer our sincere apologies to all those affected by the prolonged delays that have occurred over this weekend.”
A “full review” will now be launched by the port to ensure “improvements are made” ahead of Easter weekend – typically one of the busiest travel days of the year in the UK.
On Monday, P&O Ferries also announced that a buffer zone – set up to control traffic entering the port – had been cleared.
P&O Ferries previously advised coach drivers to head straight to the port to wait in buffer zone queues, where advance passenger information (AP) would be taken, and warned there could be a 10-hour wait.
“All coaches that have just passed border control will be on the next crossing to Calais. We apologise again for the wait times experienced in Dover this weekend,” the company said in a statement.
Is Brexit a factor?
On Sunday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman denied Brexit was the main reason for the queues.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, she said: “I don’t think that is fair to say that this is an adverse effect of Brexit.
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‘Situation improving’ in Dover
“I think we have seen we have had many years now since leaving the European Union and there’s been, on the whole, very good cooperation and processes.
“But at acute times, when there’s a lot of pressure crossing the Channel whether the tunnel or the ferries, then I think there’s always going to be a backup.
“And I just urge everyone to be a bit patient while the ferry companies work their way through the backlog.”
The home secretary also downplayed fears that delays at Dover could become a regular occurrence that risks ruining school holiday plans, suggesting things have been “operating very smoothly at the border” in general.
But Conservative MP and former minister Sir Robert Buckland suggested Brexit had played a part in the disruption.
He said: “I think for my layman’s eye, looking on, it does seem that there’s a confluence of issues.
“I think that there’s no doubt that some of the increased checks that now are necessary since we left the EU will be a part of that.
“I think it’s all the authorities on both sides of the channel, both the French and the British authorities, have to work even harder to make sure that those short straits are working as effectively as possible at times of maximum pressure.”
Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, Tobias Ellwood, also blamed Brexit. In a Tweet, he wrote: “Of course, it’s connected to Brexit.
“Our current Brexit model resulted in an end to travel freedoms. But as they weren’t replaced with new ones – processing takes longer – hence the delays.
“To compound matters – in November fingerprint scans begin. Hence we need a Brexit upgrade.”
Extra sailings were run over the weekend in a bid to clear the backlog, but by Sunday morning the port still estimated some travellers would face waits of up to eight hours, depending on the ferry operator.
The port had previously declared a critical incident and said the delays were “due to lengthy French border processes and sheer volume”.
Port officials said they had been “working round the clock” with ferry operators and border agencies to try to get coach passengers on their way and more than 300 coaches left the port on Saturday, while the freight backlog was cleared and tourist cars had been successfully processed.
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One passenger, Rosie Pearson, described the travel scenes in Dover on Saturday as “carnage” as she was stuck for 16 hours with her husband and two teenagers.
The 50-year-old environmental campaigner from Essex was travelling to Val d’Isere in the French Alps on an overnight bus.
‘It didn’t need to be this way’
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said “a range of factors” have caused the delays, but said the government had not planned for what was going to happen post-Brexit.
She told Sophy Ridge On Sunday that ministers had “known for a very long time that they needed to make sure that there were resources in place to deal with additional paperwork checks”.
“The point is not whether we left the European Union or not. The point was that we left with a government that made big promises and once again didn’t deliver,” she said.
“I really feel for the families that are trying to get away for an Easter break, people who have been caught up in this chaos, people whose livelihoods are threatened.
“It didn’t need to be this way. If the government got a grip, got down to brass tacks and started doing their actual job, all these things could be avoided.”
Hundreds of people have lost their sight due to treatment delays caused by NHS backlogs, it has been revealed.
NHS England figures, released after a Freedom of Information request by the Association of Optometrists (AOP), showed that more than 200 eye care patients had suffered because of long waits for care since 2019.
Of those, 99 incidents involved “severe harm” and 120 “moderate harm” – including one patient who went blind in their left eye after going three months without what should have been a monthly injection.
Hundreds more people are suspected to have been affected by what the AOP described as a “health emergency”.
The backlog for ophthalmology appointments in England is the second-largest in the NHS, standing at 628,502 – with 27,260 waiting a year or more.
Nearly half of UK optometrists are now seriously concerned about the number of patients who could lose sight unnecessarily because of NHS backlogs, the AOP warned.
People ‘terrified’ of going blind
It comes after a poll revealed more than half of Britons who have needed treatment for macular eye conditions in the past two years have experienced a delay waiting for an appointment or care.
Nearly half of the 498 people surveyed have experienced a loss or decline in vision during this time.
Cathy Yelf, chief executive of eye charity Macular Society, said people are “terrified” at the prospect of going blind.
Read more: NHS set to miss two key recovery targets Hundreds of pharmacies at risk of closure
The AOP is calling on the government to adopt a “national strategy for eye care” to tackle the issue, including allowing more community optometrists to provide care and follow-up services to reduce pressure on the NHS.
AOP chief Adam Sampson said: “There are good treatments available for common age-related eye conditions like macular degeneration, but many hospital trusts simply do not have the capacity to deliver services.”
“It’s incomprehensible and absolutely tragic that patients are waiting, losing their vision, in many parts of the country because of the way eye healthcare is commissioned,” he added.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the NHS was making good progress in reducing wait times and is working towards eliminating delays of a year or more for elective care by March 2025.
The government plans to spend more than £8bn between 2022 and 2025 to support elective recovery.
“No one should have to suffer avoidable sight loss, and we are taking action to improve access to services, including appointing a national clinical director for eye care to oversee the recovery and transformation of services, so patients receive the care they need,” said a spokesperson.
“We are also investing in the ophthalmology workforce, with more training places provided in 2022 – and even more planned for 2023 – alongside improved training for existing staff.”
About 500 people could be dying each week due to emergency care delays, a senior healthcare official has warned.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said he thinks waiting times for December will be the worst he has ever seen.
More than a dozen NHS trusts and ambulance services declared critical incidents over the festive period as a severe flu outbreak and rising COVID cases are adding pressure to the system.
Read more: Number of flu cases in hospital seven times higher than November
Dr Boyle told Times Radio: “We went into this December with the worst-ever performance against our target and the highest-ever occupancy levels in hospital.
“We don’t know about the waiting time figures because they don’t come out for a couple of weeks; I’d be amazed if they’re not the worst ever that we’ve seen over this December.
“What we’re seeing now in terms of these long waits is being associated with increased mortality, and we think somewhere between 300-500 people are dying as a consequence of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care each week. We need to actually get a grip of this.”
In November, 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours in A&E for a decision to be admitted, NHS England figures show.
This is an almost 355% increase on the previous November, when about 10,646 patients waited longer than 12 hours.
Dr Boyle added: “If you look at the graphs, they all are going the wrong way, and I think there needs to be a real reset. We need to be in a situation where we cannot just shrug our shoulders and say ‘This winter was terrible, let’s do nothing until next winter’.
“We need to increase our capacity within our hospitals, we need to make sure that there are alternative ways so that people aren’t all just funnelled into the ambulance service and emergency department.
“We cannot continue like this – it is unsafe and it is undignified.”
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Half of Staffordshire ambulances queuing outside hospital
Patients have been reportedly waiting hours for a bed and ambulances carrying patients have been stuck outside hospitals for hours as they wait to hand them over.
Sky News revealed on New Year’s Eve that more than half of Staffordshire’s ambulances were queuing outside Royal Stoke Hospital, with a paramedic and UNISON representative saying it was the “worst we’ve ever seen”.
Last week, one in five ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed over to A&E teams.
Dr Boyle added it is “absolutely never too late” to get a flu vaccination and said those who are eligible should do so to reduce pressure on hospitals.
British Airways has apologised to customers after suffering “a technical issue with our third-party flight planning supplier” which has delayed flights departing the US.
In a statement, BA said: “Our flights due to depart the USA tonight are currently delayed due to a technical issue with our third-party flight planning supplier, which we are urgently investigating.
“We’re sorry for any disruption this will cause to our customers’ plans, our aim is for these flights to depart as quickly as possible.”
Some customers said they were delayed for hours.
“All fun and games at JFK,” one tweeted. “All British Airways flights grounded due to an error with their flight mapping system and now we have multiple alarms going off in departures.”
Another said: “Captain of our British Airways flight just said that their flight computers have been down for two hours worldwide and no BA plane can file a flight plan? Seems not ideal.”
BA has said the technical issues do not affect any current departed flights.
“This is not a safety issue. We are keeping our customers up to date and providing them with refreshments”, the airline said.
Adding that the majority of short-haul flights are unaffected.
Costumers continue to share their frustrations on Twitter, describing it as “woeful”.
One user said: ” A little announcement might be nice no? So unfair on your ground crew to be left to face the flak. Hideous!!”
Another passenger complained about the uncertainty of the situation: “Midnight and we can’t go to a hotel because BA won’t officially cancel the flight. We don’t know when the flight will leave and there’s a plane full of people that they flew from Cayman *after* this meltdown started who will spend the night in the plane!”
Travel disruption is expected today for parts of England and Wales that find themselves under a yellow thunderstorm warning.
The Met Office says delays to train services are likely, while driving conditions could be treacherous.
Flooding is possible, with up to 80mm of rain tipped to fall in three hours in some places, and there’s a risk of damage to buildings.
The warning covers parts of England stretching from Devon to north of Stoke-on-Trent, and spans much of Wales, including Cardiff.
It lasts from 2pm today until 2am on Tuesday.
Get the five-day forecast where you are
The Met Office warns:
• Driving conditions are likely to be affected by spray, standing water, hail and gusty winds, leading to longer journey times by car and bus • Some flooding of a few homes and businesses likely, leading to some damage to buildings or structures • Delays to some train services are likely • Probably some damage to a few buildings and structures from either lightning strikes or gusty winds • Some short term loss of power and other services is likely
Met Office spokesperson Oli Claydon said the conditions should clear by the weekend, but said there could be an unsettled few days beyond the timescale of the thunderstorm warning.
He explained: “The main factor leading our weather in the next few days and indeed through the week is an area of low pressure that’s coming to the west of the UK.
“And it sits there through the week, very slowly moving eastward.
“From that area of low pressure we’ll get a number of fronts that are sort of spinning off it, as well as the thunderstorms which are being pushed up from the south.
“We’ve also got a cold front that’s moving eastward off of that low pressure, bringing further rain as well.”
Read more: What happens during a drought – and how can you help? Why 40C is deadlier in the UK than it is in other countries
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The Climate Show with Tom Heap
With summer officially over, the conditions represent a stark change from the prolonged dry conditions seen during recent months.
The Met Office confirmed last week that England had just experienced its joint hottest summer on record, with temperatures having climbed above 40C for the first time.
Britons have been warned that future summers are likely to be longer and drier because of climate change.
Watch the Daily Climate Show at 3.30pm Monday to Friday, and The Climate Show with Tom Heap on Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm and 7.30pm.
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The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.