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Accident and Emergency Departments

Volume 626: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2017

Last year our A&Es saw 1,800 more people every day within the four-hour target than they did in 2010. We also have nearly 1,500 more emergency care doctors and over 600 more emergency care consultants.

A&E departments and associated acute care services at district hospitals such as Stafford and Burton are a critical part of the regional emergency infrastructure, enabling the large city-based departments to deal with major trauma specialist cases as well as day-to-day emergencies. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that that vital emergency infrastructure is protected, enhanced and funded?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that an emergency care network that works well for his constituents is essential. As he fully understands, that will mean relying on a network of hospitals. I recognise the concern at his own local hospital, for which he campaigns extremely vigorously, and I assure him that I shall be watching very carefully what happens there.

Will the Secretary of State now confirm what the Prime Minister said when she visited west Yorkshire, namely that it was scaremongering to talk of the closure of Huddersfield A&E? Will he also confirm that we should have a real plan with a gold-standard university for a new medical school in Huddersfield, so that we can really attract talent? That would do a great deal for morale, which would lead to the recruitment of good doctors and nurses everywhere.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is time we had more medical schools, given that health and social care will be one of the fastest-expanding areas of the economy in the coming years. I think the Prime Minister was absolutely right to say that there should be no scaremongering about important local plans that will improve services for patients.

Will the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that the component parts of the NHS can communicate with each other sufficiently to ensure that decisions such as the one by a medical dean to remove accreditation for anaesthetic training will not lead to the closure of A&E departments in hospitals such as Houghton general, where my father was treated so well last Friday?

The hon. Lady’s father is a splendid fellow, and he is now in another place. [Laughter.] I was referring to another House of Parliament.

I was concerned about the general laughter following that comment, Mr Speaker.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend’s father was treated so well, and I very much enjoyed my visit to the hospital recently. She is right: where there are changes in the patterns of training, we need to be very careful to ensure that they do not interrupt the delivery of local services in a disadvantageous way.

The boundaries of the sustainability and transformation partnerships are bound to cause concern about the future of A&E and other acute departments given the nature of them. My area, south Cumbria—relatively sparsely populated and rural—is lumped in with Lancashire, which is largely urban. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the voices of rural communities will not be dwarfed by those of the larger urban ones, and in this week, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Westmorland general hospital, will he give guarantees that it will not be closed and will indeed not receive any downgrading as a result of the STP process?

Westmorland general hospital has a very important future in the NHS and I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I do not think he should be concerned about STP footprints covering both rural and urban areas. However, where there is an issue in his constituency, and many others, it is the response times for ambulances in the most remote areas, and we are looking at that.

Another threat to A&E units is the capped expenditure process, which will mean hundreds of millions of pounds cut from NHS budgets. That was sneaked out during the election, but so far we have had nothing but silence from this Government. It is time that we had the truth: when did the Secretary of State sign off these plans and when is he going to publish them?

The capped expenditure process is an NHS England initiative to meet its statutory duty to live within its budget, and I support the principle that in a period where real expenditure on the NHS is going up by £5 billion, those benefits should be spread fairly among patients in all parts of the country.