(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on what steps are being taken to improve the financial position of NHS trusts.
The House will know that in 2014, the NHS itself set out its plans for the next five years, which included a front-loaded funding requirement of £8 billion. As our economy is strong, this Government have been able to honour that request and will be funding it in full, including a down payment of £2 billion in this financial year ahead of the spending review period.
Next year, there will be an increase of £3.8 billion and taken together, we shall, therefore, be providing £10 billion towards the NHS “Five Year Forward View”. Within that context, there are a number of hospital trusts that are running a financial deficit, in large part because of the need to staff wards safely after what was learned in the aftermath of the scandal of Mid Staffs.
It is also the case that the best hospitals have begun to transform along the lines required by the NHS “Five Year Forward View”, but some have not. This has made the management of their finances all the more difficult. NHS Improvement expects that NHS hospital trusts will report an overall deficit for the current financial year, 2015-16. Savings achieved in the rest of the NHS have ensured that this overall deficit will be offset, so that the system as a whole will achieve financial balance.
For the next financial year, NHS Improvement will continue to work with trusts to ensure that they improve their financial position. To help them in this endeavour, the Department has introduced tough controls on the costs of staff agencies, a cap on consultancy contracts, and central procurement rules as proposed by Lord Carter in his review on improving hospital efficiency.
The House should know that the savings identified by Lord Carter come, in total, to £5 billion a year by 2020. The chief executive of NHS Improvement, Jim Mackey, is confident that taken together, these measures will enable hospital trusts to recover a sustainable financial position next year.
I am afraid the Minister seems to be in a state of denial. He claims that the settlement secured by the Department of Health in the spending review will sort the financial pressures that hospitals are under, but either he does not understand the scale of the problem or he simply has his head in the sand.
In the past few weeks it has become abundantly clear that hospitals across the country are buckling under the strain of providing healthcare with an inadequate budget. Four out of five hospitals are now predicting a deficit. Monitor is reportedly assembling teams of management consultants to dispatch to up to 25 trusts in need of turnaround, and now we learn that, along with the Trust Development Authority, it has written to every hospital asking it to take urgent steps to regain control of its budget, including
“headcount reduction, additional to the current plan”.
Was the Minister or the Secretary of State aware that this letter had been sent? Did it receive ministerial approval? How many hospitals have subsequently had meetings to discuss headcount reductions? How many job cuts have been agreed as a result of these meetings? On the one hand the Care Quality Commission is telling hospitals they are unsafe, and on the other, Monitor is telling them to cut staff. So which one is it, Minister? What proportion of these so-called headcount reductions will involve clinically trained staff?
On Saturday the King’s Fund said:
“Three years on from Robert Francis’s report into Mid Staffs, which emphasises that safe staffing was the key to maintaining quality of care, the financial meltdown in the NHS now means that the policy is being abandoned for hospitals that have run out of money.”
Will the Minister now accept that his Government’s financial mismanagement of the NHS has made it impossible for some hospitals to provide safe patient care? Is it not the case that this Government have fundamentally lost control of NHS finances? Is it not clear that the only way Ministers are going make their planned £22 billion worth of efficiency savings will be to cut staff, cut pay and close services? I say to the Minister that it is time to stop the NHS doublespeak and just come clean.
The hon. Lady started by claiming that the Secretary of State and I were in a state of denial. Were she to look at the outcomes of the NHS this year compared with the last year that her party was in power, she might consider that the performance of the NHS has improved beyond measure. We have 1.9 million more accident and emergency attendances, 1.3 million more operations, 7.8 million more outpatient appointments and 4.7 million more diagnostic tests. This is an NHS that is performing more procedures, helping more patients and doing more for the people of this country than at any time since its foundation. I would therefore gently suggest that those in denial are her party and her. The service is working hard to try to deliver better patient care in a challenging environment.
The hon. Lady asked a number of subsequent questions about staffing levels and letters sent out by NHS Improvement, and I will endeavour to answer each in turn. She asked about the settlement the Treasury has reached with the NHS, and I would point out that that is precisely the settlement that the NHS itself asked for and that the Labour party refused to endorse at the last election.
The hon. Lady’s second question—or statement—related to the fact that there are teams of management consultants. That allows me to remind her that the numbers of management consultants have been cut considerably—by the previous Government and by this one—in contrast to what happened under the Labour Government, who increased the numbers of managers in the 13 years they were in power. We will make no apology for the fact that NHS Improvement and its constituent bodies are working hard with some of the most challenged providers to help to turn them round and to try to address the issues of efficiency and quality they all have. Is the hon. Lady somehow suggesting that they should not be doing that? Should they not be going round hospitals trying to help those that are not able to control their own finances? Should they not be doing what is needed to try to improve the quality of the care those hospitals provide? If that is her suggestion, it is a quite remarkable one, and one that should be more widely shared with the people she seeks to represent.
The hon. Lady talked about the letter sent out by NHS Improvement. Yes, the Department was aware of it, as it was aware of the letter sent out the same day by Professor Sir Mike Richards, of the Care Quality Commission, addressing the issues of quality that need to be tackled across the service. I know that this is news to Opposition Members, but there are not separate parts of the NHS issuing separate diktats. The letters issued on staffing and other issues in the last few months have been co-signed by Professor Sir Mike Richards, the chief inspector of hospitals, by Dr Mike Durkin, the director of safety at NHS England, by Jim Mackey, the chief executive of NHS Improvement, and by Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England. This is one system addressing the particular problems that are evident in some challenged providers and making sure that those providers level up to the best. If the hon. Lady is not convinced of that, she should look at the co-signatories of those letters to see how they correspond one with the other.
The hon. Lady asked about the line in one of the letters about reductions in headcount. I point her to the reductions in the headcount of administrators that the Government have achieved over the past five years. We have managed to reduce the number of administrators in the NHS by 24,000, while increasing the number of clinicians by 16,000. Would the hon. Lady, while not promising the money to the NHS that it has asked for, ask it to maintain the same level of administrators in the years ahead, or would she back NHS Improvement’s plan to find efficiencies across the NHS, precisely so that the money that is spent on administrators can be spent better—on clinicians, on increasing the number of clinicians and on directing resources to the frontline? I know the hon. Lady is earnest in what she says about the NHS, but I cannot believe that she is really riding out in defence of increasing spend on back office at the expense of the frontline.
The hon. Lady asked about safe staffing ratios. She made a number of statements that, in retrospect, she might feel were somewhat irresponsible. The reason for that is that the letter issued about safe staffing in October last year, which built on advice given by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, was co-signed by Professor Sir Mike Richards, the chief inspector of hospitals, and by NHS Improvement and its two constituent bodies. It was a co-signed letter because quality and efficiency are two sides of the same coin. Those hospitals that are providing the highest quality of care in this country tend to be those that are also in control of their finances. Likewise, those that are struggling with quality tend to be those that cannot control their finances. If the hon. Lady were to suggest that, somehow, there is a binary distinction between the two—that there is a choice to be made between quality and efficiency—I would gently say to her that she is about a decade behind all current thinking on how a successful health service is run. It is about making sure that quality and efficiency go hand in hand, and the very best hospitals can achieve both.
In all this, the hon. Lady should avoid falling into the trap that her predecessor so often did of assuming that that there is some kind of trade-off between quality and efficiency, and also attempting a pretty low-level politicising of the NHS—an approach that was roundly rejected at the last election. I ask her to consider the counterfactual—that were she standing at this Dispatch Box now, having won the last election, she would not have had the £8 billion to invest in the NHS that we have managed to have, and she would not therefore be able to assure the public of continued improvements in the number of patients treated, an increased number of operations, GP numbers in excess of 5,000, which we have promised to deliver by 2020, record numbers of A&E admittances, and record numbers of out-patient appointments. She would have been able to promise none of that. That is why Conservative Members are proud to reaffirm that we are the true party of the NHS.
We all welcome the front-loading of the NHS settlement, and want to congratulate NHS staff on the extraordinary efforts they are putting in to improve quality, alongside coping with rising demand. If NHS Improvement is tasking management consultants to come in and advise trusts on turning around financial problems, will the Minister also task it with looking specifically at issues of social care and how the interrelation between underfunding of social care impacts on the health economies of local trusts, and with looking at improvement and prevention, because prevention was also noted by Simon Stevens to be unfinished business from the spending review?
My hon. Friend will be aware of the increase in the better care fund that this Government have introduced and the 2% precept on council tax bills that will deliver increases for social care. She will also be aware that “Five Year Forward View” is a holistic understanding of the healthcare system that includes transformation of the NHS and social care towards that point. That is why we are proud to fund “Five Year Forward View” in the manner that Simon Stevens requested —front-loaded, with £3.8 billion in the next year. The manner of that bottom-up integration over the next few years will ensure that the challenge around social care that my hon. Friend identifies will be addressed in years to come.
With almost 80% of trusts running a deficit, I am not sure that we can say that it is just failing hospitals that are having problems. The Government talk about giving £10 billion upfront, but £2.2 billion of that is already written off in the deficit, and usually budgets are ascribed across the Department of Health, whereas Public Health England and Health Education England are losing money. With the £3 billion that is being clawed back from the areas that are not specifically under NHS England, it is actually £4.5 billion, not £8 billion, that is being put in. “Five Year Forward View” identified public health and prevention as crucial. The Government have a plan to recruit 5,000 extra GPs, but I am not sure how that can be done without Health Education England. The one thing that has so far been shown in evidence to impact on unnecessary deaths is a good, strong ratio of registered nurses to patients, so it is important that we look at how that will be funded. If trusts are not allowed agency or immigrant nurses, how are they going to do this? Why do we not get the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to finish the piece of work on safe nursing levels throughout hospitals?
I thank the hon. Lady, who asked some salient questions that I will address. She asked about the deficits across the system. It is true that there are some particularly challenged providers where the heaviest deficits fall, and they account for the larger part of the accumulated deficit, but it has been a very challenging time across the system, not only because of the demographic challenges facing the NHS that have got worse in every year of this and the previous Parliaments, but because of the effect of the excessive charges of agencies levied after the increase in staffing levels in the wake of Mid Staffs. To seek to address that area, which makes up the majority of the cost of the deficit, we have brought in the controls not only on agency spend—on locums—but on very high salaries and on consultancy spend. Taken together, that will make a significant difference to hospital trust finances.
The hon. Lady talked about public health. We accept that that is a very important part of achieving “Five Year Forward View”. That is why, over the course of this Parliament, we will invest £16 billion in public health across England, to ensure that we can achieve the kind of transformation that she wishes to see.
On GP recruitment, we intend to have 5,000 additional GPs by the end of this Parliament. I am glad to say that Health Education England is so far meeting its targets in filling those training places. I congratulate its chief executive, Professor Ian Cumming, on the work he has done in that regard.
The hon. Lady mentioned safe staffing and the NICE guidelines. During the process of NICE looking at safe staffing levels, it became clear, as the chief nurse identified, that we need to look more broadly at team staffing levels, not just at individual positions on wards. I think that the hon. Lady in particular will understand that. That is why the chief nurse and Dr Mike Durkin were commissioned together to look at and build on the advice of NICE. The safe staffing guidance, which will be released in the next few months, will show a broader and more complex understanding of staffing levels, which I know the hon. Lady will appreciate from her time on the wards.
I want to be clear that that staffing guidance will be signed off only once it has the approval of NICE, Professor Sir Mike Richards, the Care Quality Commission and Dr Mike Durkin, the head of safety and quality at NHS England. It will require their imprimatur.
Our experience in Staffordshire is that it takes a medium to long-term plan to put things right. I pay tribute to the work of the staff at the Stafford County hospital and the Royal Stoke University hospital. Will the Minister assure me that any measures put in place, both in Staffordshire and across the country, will take a long-term view and not be driven by the need to cut costs within a financial year? A five-year plan, at the very least, is vital.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. It is important to take a long-term view. That is something that has bedevilled the NHS under all kinds of Administrations since its creation. For the first time, it has a five-year forward view, which means that it can begin to transform properly. The very best trusts in the country, such as that in Northumbria, previously run by Jim Mackey, have been able to do that. We want to bring that kind of excellence to hospitals across England, to ensure that they provide the sustainable staffing and quality levels that my hon. Friend is beginning to see at Mid Staffs after the long-term view taken by that hospital.
Devon NHS had no deficit in 2010 when we had a Labour Government. It now has the worst deficit in England. What assurances can the Minister give my constituents in Exeter and those elsewhere in Devon that services and waiting times will not deteriorate even further?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his co-operation and help in trying to form the future of the NHS in Devon. This will work only if there is a cross-party effort, and the same is true of the national level. We have particular, urgent problems in Devon, and that means that the deficit will increase unless we take significant local action. That action needs to be led by local clinicians, and I am very glad that they are talking constructively. My job and that of the right hon. Gentleman is to provide support in the coming months so that we can have one plan that we can then implement.
Let me give the Minister an example from my constituency of how some of the challenges are affecting patients. My local hospital of Whipps Cross ended up downgrading the nursing bands in an attempt to save money. As a result, it now has a big crisis in staff morale, the CQC has intervened because of the quality of care, and it has a massive agency bill. Moreover, Whipps Cross University hospital is part of Barts Health NHS Trust, which has the largest private finance initiative deal in the country. It is due to pay back £7 billion on a £1 billion loan, and last year alone it paid out £148 million—half of which was interest—on its PFI deal. What is the Minister doing to help trusts renegotiate such costs and tackle these legal loan sharks of the public sector?
To ask about PFIs signed by the previous Government is a brave line of attack. I have held a number of meetings about Barts with the hon. Lady’s colleagues, and I completely understand the difficulty that she and they—and, indeed, the trust—find themselves in. I had a meeting about Barts this morning. I also had two last week, and I shall be having a further two this week and next week, precisely because I want to see the transformation she needs in her area. I am very happy to discuss that in greater detail with her. In fact, I will convene a meeting of local MPs in the near future.
The Government rightly front-loaded the extra money that the NHS called for in the “Five Year Forward View”, but it is vital that that money is used to drive transformation, such as the productivity improvement that is needed and the shift of care out of hospitals. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the money will go not just to plug deficits, but to change the way in which services are delivered?
My hon. Friend is entirely right and speaks from experience. That is why, as part of the spending review settlement, £1.8 billion was set aside as a transformation fund. The principle behind the transformation fund is that the money will go to those trusts that are beginning to show transformation in the way they are running not only their finances, but their whole operations. That is for the betterment of patients as a whole. We have to see transformation; otherwise money will be wasted, as it has been in years previously.
What help and assistance can the Minister give to the ambulance service in Leicester? On Sunday 24 January, 10 of the 25 ambulances that serve the whole of Leicestershire were parked outside A&E at the Royal Infirmary, trying to hand over patients to the staff. On 856 occasions in the last year, ambulances had to wait between two and four hours to hand over those patients. In Leicester we need not more consultants, but a better system of management.
The right hon. Gentleman raises an issue that has been severe in Leicester, and I am aware of it. I am happy to have a separate meeting with him to discuss the matter and what is being done about it. Across the country, however, we are seeing a rather better performance this winter than last. That is because of the extraordinary amount of planning done by the NHS, and because we are getting better at dealing with the extraordinary pressures that are placed on the NHS in winter. In Leicester, there has been a particular issue. I am aware of it, and I reassure him that it will be fixed in time for next year.
I welcome this urgent question, because clinical and patient decision making in Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust is being dictated by a catastrophic PFI deal signed in 1998, under which Halifax hospital, which cost £64 million, will eventually cost the taxpayer £773 million. That has led to a proposal to close A&E at Huddersfield royal infirmary. Will the Minister please launch an urgent review into these catastrophic PFI deals? I look forward to exploring the matter further with him in my Westminster Hall debate tomorrow afternoon.
My hon. Friend should know that that review is already taking place in the Department of Health. We are looking again at the PFI deals that were signed by a previous Administration, who went around the country claiming to be building new hospitals without telling people that they had all been put on the credit card and that the bill would be paid by future generations and, in part, by the NHS itself. That is a great shame, and it has created a great deal of uncertainty for many trusts. I know that my hon. Friend has specific issues in Huddersfield, and we will answer them tomorrow in Westminster Hall.
Will the Minister make it very clear whether he accepts the view of Simon Stevens that if there is a funding gap in social care, which is projected to be the case in 2020 and before, it will simply increase the deficit in the NHS; and that the funding of social care remains “unfinished business”? Does he accept that case?
I accept the case for the “Five Year Forward View”. Simon Stevens was very clear that the relationship between social care and the NHS needs to be transformed. That called for an additional £8 billion into the NHS, which we have provided, and it required additional money for social care. We have provided that in the better care fund and the council tax precept.
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust has been struggling for a very long time. For five of the 12 years from 1998 to 2010, it registered a deficit, which peaked at £27 million in 2005-06. It is struggling because of a backlog of repairs and maintenance to its elderly estate, through a lack of investment from the previous Labour Government. What more can be done to help hospital trusts that are struggling with a massive backlog of ongoing maintenance?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. I went to Watford a few weeks ago, and the buildings are in a poor state of repair. They do not enable clinicians to provide the high standards of care that they all aspire to; in many cases, it is difficult to do so. West Herts trust requires additional capital expenditure. I have talked with the trust about how it might realise that, and I am discussing that in the Department at the moment.
I was contacted earlier today by a constituent. She had a scan last Tuesday, and the following day she was told that she required an urgent referral to a gynaecologist within two weeks and that she would be provided with an appointment within 48 hours. That did not happen. This morning, I was told by the NHS that no appointments were available anywhere, and that it had no idea when one would be available. My constituent is frantic.
In an earlier response, the Minister mentioned outcomes and increased numbers of appointments, but the reality of the NHS in 2016, for my constituent and millions like her, is that no funding or staffing is available not just for routine appointments, but for urgent appointments related to cancer. What will the Minister do for my constituent, and how quickly will he get a grip to ensure that appropriate funding is provided for the NHS?
During the course of the last Parliament and the beginning of this one, we have moved from being one of the worst performers on cancer outcomes in Europe to a position roughly midway in the table. We have done that through making rapid improvements in the work we do with people suffering from cancer. There is a lot more to do, but the money is flowing in and improvements to outcomes are being made. However, if there are individual cases, I will of course look at them, as I know will the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who has responsibility for cancer services. I am happy to take this on as a personal case.
During the past decade, under the previous Labour Government, the healthcare trusts that serve Crawley constituency had chronic deficits, and services such as A&E and maternity were closed at Crawley hospital. Services are now returning to that location. Will the Minister confirm that this Government will invest £10 billion in our NHS over the course of this Parliament, and will he say by how much the NHS is being cut in Wales, where Labour is in control?
I can confirm that the amount of money available to the NHS will increase by £10 billion over the course of this Parliament. However, this is not just about an infusion of money; it is about concentrating on quality and efficiency across the service. In Wales, not only has money been cut, but there has not been such a concentration on quality and efficiency, which is why outcomes are so much worse in Wales than they are in England.
The hospital in Cambridge that serves my constituency, Addenbrooke’s, is one of the trusts with the most challenging deficits. Today, it is urging people not to attend accident and emergency, which it explains by saying that it is seeing more and more frail, elderly patients. At the same time, the Conservatives in Cambridgeshire are refusing to levy the 2% that the Chancellor has offered them. We have a crisis in social care and health funding in Cambridgeshire. How can it possibly help hard-pressed staff at Addenbrooke’s to hear the instruction that numbers should be cut? Will the Minister assure me, patients and staff in Cambridgeshire that that diktat will be withdrawn?
No. I cannot assure the hon. Gentleman that we will stop trying to find efficiencies across the NHS. The important thing is to make sure that we channel money right to the frontline, which means doing so in his hospital, as in others. It will sometimes mean finding efficiencies in individual trusts and commissioning groups, and making sure that the money is rediverted. I should say to the hon. Gentleman that the problems at Addenbrooke’s go much further than A&E. The hospital is in special measures and there is much to put right. I am confident that that will be managed, under the stewardship of the new chief executive, who has proven himself to be excellent.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister thank the Secretary of State for supporting calls for extra investment in Burnley general hospital? The additional £15.6 million committed last year for a phase 8 development at Burnley general will create a state-of-the-art ophthalmology unit and allow the hospital to centralise all out-patients in one location. Following the new £9 million urgent care centre, this is the latest boost for our local hospital, which lost its accident and emergency department and other key services under the previous Labour Government.
The reality, as my hon. Friend recounts in relation to his own constituency, is that satisfaction in the NHS is at near-record levels, and that dissatisfaction in the NHS is at record lows. We rank No. 1 in the Commonwealth Fund rankings of hospital and health systems across the world. Far from the picture painted by Opposition Members, the fact is that people feel the NHS is getting better. There is increasing proof that the NHS is safe in the hands of the Conservative party, and it will continue to be so for the next five years.
The health economy in north Lincolnshire has been severely challenged for a number of years. When I meet the chief executive and others from the North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust, I get the impression that they are trying run up a finance escalator that is flying down towards them. What can the Government do to help in these circumstances?
I recognise the problems that the hon. Gentleman has identified at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and in north Lincolnshire. NHS Improvement is looking at them in detail at the moment. I hope that by working with the trust’s existing management, we will see an improvement over the next year. That is the point of what NHS Improvement is trying to do. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that if Jim Mackey produces the kind of results that he produced in his own hospital trust, his constituents will see NHS outcomes of a quality that has so far eluded them.
I had the great displeasure of seeing at first hand the catastrophe that was NHS Connecting for Health under the last Labour Administration. It was therefore a bit rich of Labour Front Benchers to table this urgent question. Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government have introduced a strong regulatory regime and that joint investigations by NHS Improvement, the Care Quality Commission and Monitor will prevent future contractual failures?
I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. Every Monday when I meet leading officials in the NHS, the people in the room are from the Care Quality Commission, NHS Improvement and NHS England. We make joint decisions. That is important because the system has to work as one. If the different parts pull in different places, we will not provide the solutions that we need. That is what has happened throughout the history of the NHS. For the first time, we have a system-wide response to the challenges facing the health service.
The CQC is downgrading trusts such as York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust owing to the national NHS staffing crisis. In addition, the trust will have an £11 million deficit for the first time at the end of this year. What risk assessment did the Minister make in respect of patient safety before the Government agreed to endorse NHS Improvement’s letter that advises trusts to cut headcount?
The hon. Lady is wrong. The CQC is not downgrading any trusts. It provides a very important function in the NHS that did not exist before, which is to give open and transparent accounts of how good the quality is in individual trusts. For the first time, patients can see whether their trust is safe, well led and effective. That means that there can be a proper and solid response where there are failings. In too many parts of the NHS, there is not the level of quality that other parts deliver. The CQC shines a light on where we need to improve. Our job, as part of the system with NHS Improvement, is to make those areas measure up.
My trust in Hull is predicting a deficit of £21.9 million by the end of the financial year. Following a CQC report a few years ago that criticised the staffing levels in Hull, a huge amount of effort has gone into increasing the staffing levels, but that has come at a cost, especially given the premium that is paid for medical staff. Will the Minister reassure my constituents that we will not return to the staffing levels that the CQC criticised in the past when dealing with the deficit of nearly £21.9 million?
I can give the hon. Lady that reassurance. When I was in Hull a few months ago, I had a fantastic series of conversations with clinicians—not just those who are leading the hospital, but those on the frontline in the wards—about how to address the staffing challenges in Hull and east Yorkshire. It is tailored responses to the problems in individual localities that will provide the quality of service in Hull that she wants for her constituents. I am committed, as are the staff in Hull, to ensuring that she sees it.
Will the Minister join me in visiting my local clinical commissioning group, trust and social services? The reason I ask is that St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has just been rated “good” in four of the five areas and “outstanding” in care. The chief executive is managing Southport hospital to help there in the interim. She previously helped Warrington out of its problems. We have no problem with our chief executive and our staff are outstanding and work hard. However, we are having to recruit nurses from Spain. There is a wonderful working relationship between the CCG, the hospitals and adult social care, with lots of pooling going on. Nevertheless, Whiston faces a £7 million deficit and that is not down to the PFI tariff. [Interruption.] Sorry, Mr Speaker, I will come to the question. Will the Minister please join me for a constructive discussion with those people to see what is happening on the frontline?
I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Public Health was in Whiston last year. I was in Manchester a few weeks ago, and I plan to go back there and to the north-west in the next few weeks. I will be doing a regional tour, and I would very much like to meet the hon. Lady and talk to her trust’s chief executive. She raises an interesting point, which is that chief executives in many trusts across the NHS are of exceptional quality. It is often easy to knock managers in the NHS, but there are some fantastic managers, and I am sure that her constituency has one.
I say to the Minister in all friendliness that I hope the region is aware of his upcoming tour. It sounds a most exciting prospect.
Will the Minister think carefully about what has happened up and down the country? Health trusts such as mine in Calderdale and Huddersfield have run successfully for many years, but recently—I think this is something to do with the destabilisation of clinical commissioning groups—many problems have entered into the general life of those trusts. In Huddersfield we do not want the closure of A&E in our hospital, or the closure of the main hospital and its replacement by a much smaller one. Will the Minister look carefully and forensically at what has happened in the Huddersfield and Calderdale area? It is not just the whipping boy of the unfortunate independent financial arrangement that was negotiated under John Major but signed under Tony Blair.
The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of Parliament and, as he will know, there was a time when reorganisations and changes in the structure of the NHS, and the way that hospitals were disposed, was very much decided in Whitehall. That changed as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and such changes are now led by clinicians. The changes to which he alludes—which we will discuss tomorrow in Westminster Hall—are led by local clinicians, and ultimately the Secretary of State must defer to their opinion. An independent reconfiguration panel judges those changes, and so far the Secretary of State has always concluded that the panel and local clinicians have been correct. That is the right thing to do. In this case I hope and expect that we will do the same, but I will look carefully at the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and ensure that I take them on board and relay them back to the CCG.
At Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which serves my constituency, A& E attendances are at a record high, and this weekend the local paper carried the headline “Stay away from A&E unless it’s life or death.” The trust is predicting a deficit of £29 million by the end of the financial year, and although staff work hard in difficult circumstances, does the Minister truly believe that that is an example of a successfully run NHS?
There are many examples of success in the NHS, and hospitals, CCGs and community health organisations are delivering exceptional care within existing budgets. We must ensure that we spread that practice and approach to care across the NHS. Some parts of the NHS are not doing that, but with our ability to level up and “universalise the best”, as Bevan coined it, we will ensure that everyone gets the level of care that those in the best areas of the NHS already receive.
Last week Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust reported a £25 million deficit, and announced a non-clinical vacancy freeze on top of 10% vacancy rates, and above-target use of agency staff. Its solution was to pay its chief executive £350,000 last year to oversee the downsizing of the major local hospital, Charing Cross. What is that other than a short-sighted and dangerous attempt to undermine the NHS?
Given the hon. Gentleman’s record of statements given to his constituents, whether on housing or hospitals, I would prefer very much comments from the clinicians running Imperial College NHS Healthcare Trust, than I do his own comments about this.
On the one hand, the Secretary of State is suggesting that he wants a seven-day-a-week NHS, which I presume is not an empty slogan, and on the other hand Ministers are calling for headcount reductions. That suggests that we are asking fewer people in the NHS to work longer hours. Does the Minister share my concern that that is a recipe for staff overstretch and increased pressure on staff, and therefore potentially for greater failings for patients?
If the hon. Gentleman had not mischaracterised the situation, he might have been able to ask a more coherent question. The fact is that NHS Improvement was looking for what savings could be made in back-office functions in hospitals so that that money could be recycled into the frontline. All I can say to him is that under this party the number of clinicians has increased by 16,000 since 2010. That is a record of which we are proud and on which we will continue to build over the next few years.