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NHS (Winter Pressures)

Volume 571: debated on Tuesday 26 November 2013

7. What steps his Department has taken to ease the short and long-term impact of winter pressures on NHS services. (901264)

In the short term, a record £400 million has been assigned to help the NHS cope with winter pressures this winter, with £250 million announced in August—much earlier than before. For the long term, we will provide better out-of-hospital care for the frail elderly, by restoring the link between GPs and older patients, and looking to integrate the health and social care systems.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the outstanding work of Age UK and, in particular, Age UK Cheshire, which serves my constituency? It is raising older people’s awareness of seasonal impacts on health and offering support to prevent unnecessary pressures on the health service.

I am delighted to do that. As these are the last Health questions before Christmas, all of us would want to pay tribute to the voluntary organisations that do an extraordinary job of making sure that vulnerable older people do not get lonely over the Christmas period. It is heroic what they do—when we are with our families, they are looking after other people—and we should salute them all.

22. One way to ease the pressure on the NHS is by not handing the £2.2 billion underspend back to the Treasury. Will the Secretary of State consider using it for the NHS? (901279)

I wish the hon. Lady had been as diligent in asking that question of Labour Ministers, who also handed back underspends to the Treasury when they were in power.

Along with county colleagues, I wrote to the Secretary of State on this subject, because Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust is relatively underfunded compared with the rest of the country and it is in special measures following the Keogh review. Further to the answer that he gave to the earlier question, when can we expect the NHS England funding settlement to reflect more equitably the age of the public?

I commend my hon. Friend for the campaigning he does for high standards in his local trust. That has not been easy because, as he says, there have been a lot of problems there, although I hope he thinks that we are beginning to turn a corner. The decision on the funding allocations will be made by NHS England before Christmas, and the things that he says will, of course, be taken into account.

Yesterday we learned that the number of people suffering from hypothermia has soared by almost 40% on this Government’s watch. This morning the Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of older and vulnerable people who died unnecessarily last winter jumped by 29%. For every person who tragically loses their life over the winter months, eight more are admitted to hospital, putting huge strains on our crisis-ridden accident and emergency services. Will the Secretary of State please tell us what he is going to do about it?

I do not think I have yet answered a question across the Dispatch Box from the hon. Lady, so I welcome her to her post. I just say that she should be careful what she chooses to turn into a political football, because hypothermia admissions, as Public Health England said in August, are very closely linked to the number of cold days over a winter and the length of that winter. We had a particularly difficult winter last year, but the number of winter deaths was nearly 20% higher under the previous Government, when the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) was Health Secretary.