A range of factors is contributing to increased attendances. The ageing population means that, by the end of this Parliament, there will be nearly 1 million more over-65s than at the start. The urgent and emergency care review cited pressure on GP appointments and availability or awareness of alternatives as factors that might affect A and E attendances.
NHS Providers, which represents 94% of NHS foundation trusts, says that national tariff proposals that have forced hospital trusts to find efficiencies of 3.8% are excessive and, taken with other cost pressures, undeliverable. It will take £1.2 billion out of budgets from front-line NHS services. Do the Secretary of State and his Ministers understand the implications of that proposal, and will they act to stop it given the pressures on the NHS, especially on A and E departments?
The Nicholson challenge, which was published in the last year of the Labour Government, recognised that the whole system had to deliver efficiency savings, and I think that everyone understands that. But the answer to all of this is a significant shift of emphasis towards preventing ill health and preventing crises from occurring. Under the better care fund the NHS and the care system are for the first time being properly joined together.
The Northamptonshire clinical commissioning groups and Kettering general hospital are agreed that Kettering’s A and E department is too small and outdated and needs to be replaced with an urgent care hub in line with the NHS five-year forward view. Given that the three local MPs on a cross-party basis refused to treat our local A and E as a political football, will the Minister of State encourage his colleague, the hospitals Minister, to consider that proposal seriously when we come to see him this afternoon?
Ministers have been repeatedly warned about the impact that their social care cuts are having on elderly people and that that is a key cause of pressures on A and E. Today it has been revealed that public health officials have issued an alert about a statistically significant and “sustained” decline in life expectancy in parts of the north-west. They say it is extremely unusual and that
“central government driven reductions in adult social care budgets”
are a possible cause. Will the Minister confirm that alert, say whether life expectancy is declining elsewhere, guarantee that Public Health England will urgently investigate the matter and promise that its findings will be published in full?
Although there was a fall in life expectancy for those aged 85 in 2012, preliminary analysis shows that there was no further drop in 2013. Incidentally, let me pay tribute to the people who work in social care. The system has performed remarkably well. Statistics on delayed discharges due to social care show that the number of delayed days is almost exactly the same this year as it was in 2010—a remarkable performance.