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Winter Pressures (NHS)

Volume 536: debated on Tuesday 22 November 2011

The NHS and social care systems are well prepared for winter. Our Winterwatch summary was first published last Thursday. It showed higher flu vaccination uptake, and I announced additional extracorporeal membrane oxygenation—ECMO—capacity, which will be in place by December. There is always more pressure on the NHS during winter. This year will be no different, but the preparations are in place.

Given the director of immunisation’s recent report on the take-up by medical staff of the flu jab and the local efforts of Dr Alastair Blair, the chair of the Northumberland clinical commissioning group, will the Minister expand on the need for patient protection in the form of flu jabs in hospitals and surgeries around the country?

I would like to take this opportunity not least to commend the work that the chief medical officer has done this year in encouraging health care workers to have their seasonal flu jab. The latest figures are that 29% have done so, compared with 11% at the same point last year. We heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) how well Kettering has done, and there are hospitals that are demonstrating that a higher level is entirely achievable. I urge staff across the NHS to have their flu vaccination. It is the ethical thing to do, not least to provide protection to their patients.

One of the things that makes the problem of winter pressures much greater is the NHS coping with the biggest reorganisation ever. The public have a right to know the risks that the Government’s policies are placing on our NHS. The Information Commissioner agrees and has judged that the Secretary of State must now release the risk assessments and register for his NHS reorganisation. Will he now obey the law and end his 12-month cover-up?

I have been very clear and published all the cost-benefit and risk information relating to the modernisation of the NHS, and the impact assessment was published when the legislation was presented to the House of Lords.

The Care Quality Commission and Monitor are looking into the affairs of the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. Will my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that whatever the findings, the Government will act upon them quickly?

I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s point. I of course will not prejudice whatever might be said in relation to that, but I will look at the report very carefully when it is presented.

Social care is vital for reducing winter pressures on the NHS by helping to keep older people out of hospital, but the Government are cutting funding for older people’s social care by £1.3 billion. Delayed discharges from hospitals are already up 11% from this time last year. The Minister responsible for care said in Westminster Hall on 10 November:

“cuts to front-line adult social care services are really beginning to bite.”—[Official Report, 10 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 178WH.]

Does the Secretary of State agree?

I have to say to the hon. Lady that it was this Government who, through the spending review, gave priority to social care. More than £7 billion was added to the social care budget as a consequence of the steps taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and by the NHS. This year the NHS is providing an additional £648 million specifically to support adult social care. In addition, I have announced our Warm Homes Healthy People funding for this winter, which will provide additional support for those most urgently in need.