Improving the quality of care throughout the NHS is a key priority for the Government, and one of the things we are doing to make that happen is, for the first time, asking all NHS in-patients whether they would recommend the care they received to a friend or member of their family.
My constituents have consistently been let down by the failure of the last Government and a debt-ridden PCT to invest in local community health services. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the new clinical commissioning groups to respond to Witham’s growing population and health needs by investing in localised community health care?
I am happy to do so, and I commend my hon. Friend for her campaigning, because if we invest properly in community health services, we can allow the frail elderly, who are among the biggest users of the NHS, to stay at home happily, healthily and for much longer. That must be a key priority for us all.
At the last Health questions, the Secretary of State told me:
“Every NHS bed is getting an extra two hours of care per week compared with the situation two years ago.”—[Official Report, 27 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 122.]
Quoting national average nurse-patient ratios does not help to improve the patient experience, but cutting 7,000 nurses sure does affect it. We have unsafe levels of care in 17 hospitals. Will he treat this issue a bit more seriously and do something about those unsafe levels?
With respect to the hon. Lady, she cannot talk about alleged cuts in the NHS while her Front-Bench team support a policy of real cuts in the NHS budget. In the last Opposition day debate, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) said that he thought it was irresponsible of the Government to increase the NHS budget in real terms. That means he wants a real cut in the NHS budget, which would make the staffing issues to which she referred much, much worse.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most effective things we can do to improve the patient experience of health and care is to improve the co-ordination, not just between the hospital service and community-based health services, but between the NHS and social care, and to put in place the infrastructure, including the IT infrastructure, to make that real?
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point—in fact, I will be giving a speech on this tomorrow—because, in the end, if it is not possible to see a full medical record of some of these frail elderly or heaviest users of the NHS going in and out of the system throughout the year, it is not possible to give them the integrated, joined-up care that they desperately need. This will be a very big priority for us.
One of the biggest drivers of patient experience on hospital wards is the dedication and care of the nursing staff, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) said, the Care Quality Commission has identified 17 NHS hospitals that are operating with unsafe staffing levels, putting vulnerable patients and especially older people at risk. Frankly, it is the Secretary of State’s job to ensure that every NHS hospital operates with safe staffing levels, so does he now think it was a mistake to strip out almost 7,000 nursing posts from our NHS?
It is my job, and that is why the Government have protected the NHS budget. The hon. Gentleman’s Front-Bench team, on the other hand, want to cut it in real terms. He has to think carefully before he starts talking about all these so-called cuts, given that his shadow Health spokesman wants to cut the NHS budget in real terms. [Interruption.] That is what he said last December. I agree with the Care Quality Commission that it is totally unacceptable for hospitals to have unsafe staffing levels. The commission also said, however, that budgets and financial issues were not an excuse, because those budget pressures existed throughout the NHS and many hospitals were able to deliver excellent care despite them.