Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more.

House of Commons Hansard
08 January 2018
Volume 634

  • (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health to update the House on the NHS winter crisis.

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for applying to ask the urgent question as I agree that it is helpful for colleagues in the House to be updated on the current performance of the NHS during this challenging time.

    We all know that winter is the most difficult time of the year for the NHS, and I start by saying a heartfelt thank you to all staff across the health and care system who work tirelessly through the winter, routinely going above and beyond the call of duty to keep our patients safe. They give up their family celebrations over the holiday period to put the needs of patients first. Those dedicated people make the NHS truly great.

    Winter places additional pressure on the NHS and this year is no exception. The NHS saw 59,000 patients every day within four hours in November. That is 2,800 more every day compared with the previous year. The figures for December will be published on Thursday. We have done more this year in preparing and planning earlier than ever before. That means that the NHS is better able to respond to pressure when it arises. In the words of Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the national medical director:

    “I think it’s the one”


    “that we’re best prepared for. Historically we begin preparing in July/August. This year we started preparing last winter. We have, I think, a good plan.”

    Let me tell the House about some of the things that have been done differently this year. We further strengthened the NHS’s ability to respond to risk, and the NHS set up the clinically-led national emergency pressures panel to advise on measures to reduce the level of clinical system risk.

    We are supporting hospital flow and discharge. We allocated £1 billion for social care this year, meaning that local authorities have funded more care packages. Delayed transfers of care have been reduced, freeing up 1,100 hospital beds by the onset of winter. Additional capacity has been made possible through the extra £337 million we invested at the Budget, helping 2,705 more acute beds to open since the end of November.

    We have also ensured that more people have better access to GPs. We allocated £100 million to roll out GP streaming in A&E departments and I am pleased that 91% of hospitals with A&E departments had this in place by the end of November. For the first time, people could access GPs nationally for urgent appointments from 8 am to 8 pm, seven days a week, over the holiday period. In the week to new year’s eve, the number of 111 calls dealt with by a clinician more than doubled compared with the equivalent week last year, to 39.5%, thereby reducing additional pressures on A&E.

    We extended our flu vaccination programme, already the most comprehensive in Europe, even further. Vaccination remains the best line of defence against flu and this year an estimated 1,175,000 more people have been vaccinated, including the highest ever uptake among healthcare workers, which had reached 59.3% by the end of November.

    We all accept that winter is challenging for health services, not just in this country but worldwide. The preparations made by the NHS are among the most comprehensive, and we are lucky to be able to depend on the extraordinary dedication of frontline staff at this highly challenging time.

  • Order. For a moment I thought that the Minister intended to treat this as though it were an oral statement, to judge by the length. I think it is fair and correct for those following our proceedings to point out that this is not an oral statement offered by the Government: it is a response to an urgent question applied for to, and granted by, me.

  • It is always a delight to see the Minister, but the Secretary of State for Health should be here to defend his handling of the crisis, not pleading for a promotion in Downing Street as we speak.

    I join the Minister in paying tribute to all those NHS staff working flat out. Many of them have said that this winter crisis was entirely predictable and preventable. When you starve the NHS of resources, when you cut beds by 15,000, when you cut district nurses, when walk-in centres are closed, when we have vacancies for 40,000 nurses, when you fragment the NHS at a local level and drive privatisation and when social care is savaged, is it any surprise that we have a winter crisis of this severity?

    More than 75,000 patients, including many elderly and frail, were stuck in the back of ambulances for over 30 minutes in the winter cold this December and January. A&Es were so logjammed that they were forced to turn away patients 150 times. In the week before new year’s eve, 22 trusts were completely full for up to five days. The blanket cancellation of elective operations means that people will wait longer in pain, distress and discomfort. Children’s wards have been handed over to the treatment of adults. Of course, we do not know the full scale of the crisis, because NHS England refuses to publish the operational pressures escalation levels alerts revealing hospital pressures. Given Ministers’ keenness on duty of candour, why are OPEL alerts data not being collected and published nationally for England?

    The Minister mentioned the winter pressures funding, but that money was announced in the Budget on 22 November. Why were trusts not informed of allocations until a month later? That is not planning for the winter: it is more like a wing and prayer. He will know that cancelling elective operations has an impact on hospital finances. What assessment has he made of the anticipated loss of revenue for trusts from cancelling electives? Will he compensate hospitals for that loss of revenue, or should we expect deficits to worsen? Can he tell us when those cancelled operations will be rescheduled?

    The Prime Minister defends this crisis by saying nothing is perfect. Patients do not want perfection: they just want an NHS which is properly funded and properly staffed without the indignity of 560,000 people waiting on trolleys in the last year, in which operations are not cancelled on this scale, and in which ambulances are not backed up outside overcrowded hospitals. Patients do not just need a change of Ministers today: they need a change of Government.

  • I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Secretary of State. I want to put on record my tribute to my right hon. Friend, who has served in that position for almost as long as Aneurin Bevan, who was the first Secretary of State for the NHS.

    I am delighted to be here to respond to the hon. Gentleman, who, as usual, listed a cacophony of allegations, very few of which are directly related to the challenges that our hospitals face today—the increase in demand and pressure on our NHS as a result of a combination of the increase in population and challenges posed by demographics, as well as the weather and the presence of flu in many parts of the country, adding to the pressure on staff at this time of the year.

    The hon. Gentleman asked several questions. On the funding issue, he is well aware that the £337 million announced in the Budget was allocated in December. His own local trust, which includes the Leicester Royal Infirmary, received £4.2 million. It is a great shame that he chose not to welcome that extra money for his local trust. The money announced in the Budget has been allocated, but we have kept £50 million in reserve to allocate this month if particular pressures that become apparent during the course of the month need addressing.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about the impact of the cancelled operations. We do not know that operations are cancelled. There have been a few thus far; procedures and treatments are being deferred. It will not become apparent until after this period has finished how many actually do end up being cancelled, so it is not possible to calculate the financial impact on any of the trusts where deferral is taking place.

    The hon. Gentleman referred to the situation as unprecedented. I gently remind him that we have a winter crisis of some kind or another every year. He will have been in Downing Street in 2009-10, when, as it happens, the then Conservative shadow Health Secretary chose not to try to take advantage of the near flu pandemic at the time because he recognised that there were operational pressures on the NHS and it was not down to him to score party political points. The hon. Gentleman has unfortunately chosen to do that. At that time, tens of thousands of elective procedures were cancelled to provide capacity to cope with the emergency at the front doors of our hospitals. So this is a routine way to deal with pressure coming through hospital front doors.

    What distinguishes this year from previous years is that in the past elective procedures were cancelled within hours of operations being due to take place. Sometimes it was the day before and sometimes it was on the day. That caused patients considerable distress and gave rise to considerable problems for staff. We have set up the national emergency pressures panel to anticipate problems when we see the signals, and we can then give notice to patients that their procedures are going to be deferred. That is a much more humane and sensible way to do things and it provides much more opportunity for hospitals to cope with the pressures that are coming through the door.

  • NHS acute services have never been better and are among the best in the world. As the Minister just said, every year we have this slightly ritual exchange about winter pressures, but does he accept that the problems are changing because of the increased number of elderly people in the population and the increased urgency of the need to solve the problem of how to admit them promptly to the right part of the service and then discharge them properly and safely as soon as they are recovered? Will he advertise further to the many people who are not aware of it the availability of emergency GP services? Will he concentrate on the reform and integration of the community care system, the social care system and the primary care services and make sure that co-operation among them is steadily improved so that they can cope better in future years, because this problem is undoubtedly going to develop?

  • I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for making those points. He brings to the House considerable experience of what it is like to be responsible for the NHS. He is absolutely right: the number of over-80s who are presenting to hospital A&Es is going up exponentially each year. Hospitals need to adapt the way that they treat such patients to try to keep them as healthy as possible so that they can live independently for as long as possible. That is why many hospitals are now introducing frail elderly units close to or at the front door of A&E departments so that they can turn around patients and avoid admissions. My right hon. and learned Friend is also right to point to the increasing integration between the NHS and social care that is necessary to encourage more people to live independently out of hospital and leave emergency departments for those people who are urgently ill.

  • I, too, pay tribute to staff across all four health services, where the normal pressures have been added to this winter by freezing weather and influenza. Scotland still leads in A&E performance across the UK, but we do not need to see four-hour data to understand the stress that NHS England is under. Thousands of patients have been held in ambulances for more than an hour outside A&E before they can even get in, which means that ambulances could not respond to other urgent calls, and that has obviously put other patients in danger. We have heard about patients being held in corridors for hours at a time, causing not just suffering and danger to patients, but enormous stress to those staff to whom we are paying tribute.

    The Minister talks about the elderly population. We need to have beds for that population. England has halved its number of beds in the past 30 years, and now has only 2.4 beds per 1,000 population, compared with four in Scotland. Will he and the Secretary of State make sure that there are no further cuts in the sustainability and transformation reorganisation, and will they look at how they replace the money that has been cut from social care so that when elderly patients are ready to go home they can do so and free a bed for someone else?

  • As I have already said, the social care funding has gone up very significantly this year, and there is a second billion pounds to go into social care over the next two years. The hon. Lady is right to point to Scotland having a slightly better A&E performance than England, and the two countries are far better in performance terms than any other country that we regularly monitor, but she has to be a little careful when she talks about how Scotland is performing so much better. She talked about waits. It is the case that the over-12-hour trolley waits in England for November were half the rate of over-12-hour trolley waits in Scotland. We are providing information, and we are increasingly trying to be more transparent about the impact of winter on our health service in England. I strongly encourage her to take back to her colleagues in the Scottish Government the amount of data that is being published in England and to see whether they can try to match it.

  • I join the Minister in thanking NHS staff and in commenting that there is nothing new about winter pressures in the NHS. What is different is that they are extending now into traditionally quieter months, and that the depth of those pressures is so much more profound over the current winter, because there has been a failure over successive Governments to plan sufficiently for the scale of the increased demand across both health and social care. Will the Minister think about the forthcoming Green Paper for social care and think about combining it with health, so that we can see this as a truly across-system approach? I would also like to reiterate the points made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) about the role of bed-occupancy levels. Can the Minister tell us what the current bed-occupancy levels are in the NHS in England?

  • On the last point, I can confirm to my hon. Friend that, at Christmas eve, the bed occupancy rate was 84.2%, below the target of 85% that we set going into this particular winter period. Of course the rate fluctuates daily and I do not have the figures for the most recent days. We did at least start this holiday period in that position, which is a great tribute to the work done in preparing for winter. I wish to reiterate to her, as I did to my right hon. and learned Friend, the importance of the integration work being done through the sustainability and transformation partnership process between NHS organisations and social care providers. It is part of the solution for the longer-term arrangements that we need to put in place to try to make sure that people who are living longer live better, more healthily and in a more independent way out of hospital.

  • Where does the postponement of tens of thousands of operations leave the promise made by the Health Secretary to the Select Committee, the last time he appeared before us, that he would begin to reverse the very bad deterioration in routine waiting times for operations that we have seen in the past seven years?

  • Many areas of the country are doing very well with their waiting times. There are some—this tends to be concentrated in a relatively small number of trusts—where the referral to treatment targets are not being met, and need to be met. Part of the funding settlement achieved in the Budget in November is designed to bring down waiting time targets, to get more people treated within an 18-week period. That will clearly exacerbate the problem during this immediate period in which procedures are being deferred, but we hope that it will not last long.

  • Notwithstanding the increased funding for social care, does not the principal constraint remain the inability to discharge patients?

  • As I said in my initial response to the question, it is very important that we improve patient flow through hospitals. One of the critical features that enables this is ensuring that patients can be discharged when they are medically fit. We have put a huge amount of effort into this during the past nine months or so. I am pleased to say that some progress is being made, but we absolutely need to focus on this area. Again, there is huge variability between systems across the country. Some have virtually no delayed transfers of care, but the numbers of DToCs in other areas are much too high. We need to learn from the areas that are doing it right and introduce that in areas that are not.

  • To progress beyond the tribal arguments about funding, what is the Government’s response to the 90 MPs from both sides of the House who have urged the Government to establish a cross-party consensus to agree a funding formula for integrated health and social care?

  • As the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have said, we are always interested to listen to ideas for improving the health service. At the moment, we have confidence in the five year forward view; that is the route that we are taking to bring the health service forwards and make it completely fit for the future. If the right hon. Gentleman has specific points that he would like to make, I am always ready to listen.

  • It has been an extraordinarily difficult winter for hospitals serving my constituents in Kent. May I, too, thank NHS staff for the efforts that they have made to provide the best possible care? I welcome the extra money from the Government that has helped to open extra beds out of hospitals and to employ extra staff, particularly GPs and A&E staff. Will the Minister looks carefully at future capital funding bids and at Kent’s proposal for a medical school, so that we are better prepared for future winters and have the buildings and staff that we need?

  • My hon. Friend is a consistent champion of efforts to improve health facilities in her constituency. I am acutely aware of the challenge of medical training places in Canterbury, which was one of the reasons that we met last year to discuss what could be done to encourage medical students to come to Kent. I am not able to give her any specific guidance on the allocation of new medical training places because that recommendation will be coming to me over the next few months from Health Education England. We look forward to making decisions on that, and I specifically included in the criteria that rural and coastal areas should have good representation.

  • The Minister will have seen the images of patients at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust sleeping on the floor because they could not even get a trolley, never mind a bed. We have had over 95% bed occupancy rates and a shortfall of over 200 nursing vacancies, and we will have a multimillion-pound budget shortfall by the end of this year. The Health Secretary and the Prime Minister have been repeatedly warned about this by nurses and doctors at Mid Yorkshire trust and across the country, by the public and by the NHS chief executive, yet they still decided to deny him the funding he needed at the Budget. How many more patients will have to sleep on the floor before this Government act?

  • I cannot comment on what the right hon. Lady says happened in her hospital regarding individual patients. I acknowledge that there has clearly been a lot of pressure on space for beds, which is in large part down to a multiplicity of factors including the high bed occupancy to cope with the high admission rate. I say gently to the right hon. Lady that her area has received £3.3 million to help to cope with winter pressures; that is not an insignificant amount. As to nursing vacancies, we absolutely recognise that we need to increase the number of nurses in this country, which is why we announced last October a 25% increase in nurses in training. That will start to take effect from next September. In addition, we have introduced the new alternative route into nursing of the nursing associate role, and we expect several thousand of those to start shortly.

  • Order. It might be helpful to the House if I inform Members that I am looking to move on to the second urgent question at no later than 4.30 pm, so inevitably some people will be disappointed on this question. The longer each question and answer takes, sadly, the more people will be disappointed. I am in favour of fewer disappointments. I am sure that colleagues share that ambition with me, not just in general, but including in terms of its implications for their own question.

  • Does the Minister agree that the social care system is broken and that the leader of the Liberal Democrats is right that we are not going to solve the problem unless we all work together?

  • I do not think my hon. Friend will be surprised if I say no, I do not agree that the system is broken. I do accept that it requires more funding, and that is why more funding was provided. It also requires local authorities to work more closely alongside the NHS to try to share these problems and find solutions together.

  • The Minister said earlier that he did not know how many operations had been cancelled—maybe a few. Let me tell him that in one week alone 300 operations were cancelled in Leicester. I find myself unusually agreeing with the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone)—social care is broken. Will the new Cabinet Office Minister be leading on the social care Green Paper, as the previous one did, and if not him, who?

  • I am glad that the hon. Lady has referred to the social care Green Paper, because that will be published this year, providing an opportunity for all Members to participate in it. It does not sit within my set of responsibilities, so I will come back to the hon. Lady on exactly who will be leading on it.

  • My constituents can access Derby and Nottingham hospitals. The two trusts have been allocated an extra almost £7 million for winter preparedness. Will the Minister reassure me and my constituents that there will be a full analysis of how that extra money is spent, so that we can learn lessons to make sure that we build on good practices for next year?

  • I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomes the extra money provided in her area. I can confirm that once this winter period is behind us, we will absolutely look to learn lessons on what works best in ensuring that we get patients seen to as quickly as possible.

  • Is the Minister aware that on six of the seven days after Boxing day, all of north Middlesex hospitals’ general and acute beds were occupied? Does he agree that this state of affairs is totally unacceptable, that more investment is needed in our emergency health services and that much better planning is required for any future winter crisis?

  • I confirmed to the House at the beginning of my remarks that we believe that planning is essential. We started planning for this winter at the end of last winter, and I expect that we will continue to do so for the coming winter. As for what happens in individual hospitals with the individual pressures that they have, it is down to the local NHS leaders and clinicians to determine what capacity they need, and they need to plan for that, too.

  • In Medway, we have seen great pressures in the system over the past few weeks. We have seen advance planning at Medway Maritime Hospital and extra funding going into the clinical commissioning group. Does my hon. Friend agree that the staff at the hospital have done an outstanding job so soon after coming out of special measures and that it is important that we should hold the CCG to account on where this money is spent?

  • I visited the Medway hospital when it was still in special measures and saw the pressures with the configuration of the A&E and the challenges that that posed to good patient flow. I am pleased that significant investment has already gone into Medway to try to resolve some of those physical characteristics. I absolutely agree that we should praise the staff of the hospital for the work that they have done in turning it around so well.

  • Three months ago at the Health Committee, Jim Mackey, the head of NHS Improvement, told us that

    “we are running tighter than any of us would really want to and we have not had the impact from the social care investment…that we had hoped for; so, it will be difficult—it will be very tight—over winter.”

    The Government knew that this crisis was coming, and the social care investment to which the Minister has referred this afternoon has not been enough. Why have this Government not acted?

  • The Government have acted. We provided £2.9 million of extra money to the hon. Lady’s area to cope with winter pressures. Chris Hopson, who is the chief executive of NHS Providers, has said that this winter was better prepared for “than ever before”.

  • Will the Minister congratulate the doctors and healthcare workers of Leicestershire on their excellent work over Christmas but recognise that the problems of A&E are not just about the supply of services, but about trying to reduce demand through triage, the involvement of the 111 service at A&Es and dealing with drunks who are abusing the old doctrine of a service free at the point of delivery?

  • I am very pleased to respond to my hon. Friend on a subject that is not always at the forefront of his mind. He is absolutely right to highlight the abuse of the health service by certain people—revellers—who turn up at hospitals in an unfit state to be treated. In some places, we have introduced holding areas to ensure that they do not disrupt the work of the hospital.

  • The Minister will be aware that the tragic case of the elderly lady who lost her life while waiting four hours for an ambulance is not an isolated one: there are constant failures of care across the country every day of the week. If he recognises that this is completely intolerable, will he not respond to the 90 MPs from across this House who have demanded that the Government get a grip and work, on a cross-party basis, to come up with a long-term solution?

  • I am always interested in what the former Health Minister has to say on these subjects, because he speaks with considerable authority. On ambulances, it is obviously unacceptable for there to be delays of that nature and leading to that kind of outcome, and we absolutely need to ensure that all trusts, when these incidents occur, look very carefully at trying to prevent them from occurring again. We have now—in part, in response to the pressures that the ambulance service has been under—set up a national ambulance control centre to try to help co-ordinate ambulance responses where services are not meeting the targets in certain parts of the country or our requirements in individual hospitals.

  • It was back in 1994 that Germany got an integrated system of health and social care, with dedicated funding to pay for it. Will the Minister commit to moving forward, both at pace and at scale, with the sustainability and transformation partnerships, which are our answer to this problem?

  • That is absolutely our intention.

  • May I press the Minister a little bit further on the photographs, which were taken by a constituent of mine, of people sleeping on the floor? These poorly people had been waiting on chairs for hours and had not been given a bed or a trolley. What I did not hear in his response was an apology. Is it not now time for the Minister to apologise to those affected?

  • The hon. Lady will have heard last week the apology from the Secretary of State to patients having operations postponed, and I am absolutely prepared to apologise today to patients who are not able to be treated as quickly as we would all like them to be treated. There are seats available in most hospitals, where beds are not available. I cannot comment on what happened in her individual case, but I agree with her that it is not acceptable.

  • I pay tribute to all the staff who work at Cannock Chase Hospital. A key advantage of this hospital is that it does not deal with medical emergencies, so no elective operations have been cancelled. Does my hon. Friend agree that this clearly demonstrates the real value of Cannock Chase Hospital to local patients?

  • I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that improving out-of-hospital capacity in our communities is vital. That includes capacity in medical centres and community hospital settings wherever they are outside the acute hospitals, which are inevitably under the most pressure at this time.

  • Constituents of mine recently waited several hours for an ambulance, owing to the North East Ambulance Service running at a high state of alert. What are the Government doing about the crisis in the ambulance service?

  • This financial year we have introduced the new ambulance response programme precisely in order to try to direct category 1 calls more rapidly, with conveyance by ambulance for those people who need it most. It is in the early stages of introduction in many areas, and we have yet to be able to analyse its impact. If my hon. Friend would like to write to me about the specific case he mentions, I would be happy to look into it for him.

  • May I thank all the staff at the Alex Hospital in Redditch for doing an amazing job this winter? The hospital and the trust have been in special measures. I thank the Minister for his interest in my hospital and for the additional Government funding to address winter pressures. It is making a difference, with encouraging early signs in the elderly and frail unit in particular.

  • I congratulate my hon. Friend on her campaigning role in holding the Government to account for delivering on the capital injection of £29 million that we promised to the Worcestershire trust, of which the Alex is a key part. I reiterate to her that she should not rest until it has the money.

  • The cancellation of thousands of elective surgery appointments simply shows that the Tories are doing what they have always done, which is forcing people to wait longer for their operations and rationing healthcare in that way. How will the Minister deal with the backlog that will be created in future months because of all the operations that have been put off?

  • I have to say that I am disappointed with the right hon. Gentleman. He was a Minister in the previous Labour Government, and in each quarter for which I have the figures, which go back to 2000, between 10,000 and 20-something thousand procedures were deferred or cancelled. This problem has affected this country’s health service every year, going back to the beginning of recorded data.

  • My hon. Friend will be aware that Harlow’s Princess Alexandra Hospital has among the highest rates of A&E use in England. That has been exacerbated by the winter crisis, which has caused significant pressures on the ambulance services, resulting in a constituent having to wait 10 hours for an ambulance over Christmas. Will my hon. Friend redouble his efforts to do everything possible to have a new hospital in Harlow, to help us with the infrastructure and ensure that Harlow has a hospital that is fit for purpose for the 21st century?

  • My right hon. Friend is another consistent campaigner in favour of improving the infrastructure and estate of his hospital. He has invited me to visit; I have seen it and I am well aware that the hospital trust has put in an application for a significant rebuild, which will be considered in the allocation of the next phase of sustainability and transformation plan funding.

  • Up to 31 December, more than 400 patients had to wait an hour outside the A&E at Hull Royal Infirmary, and a further 1,000 had to wait half an hour. Has the time not come for the Minister to accept that the NHS does not have enough beds and to reverse the policy of cutting beds, which has happened under successive Governments? This Government need to take action now.

  • I indicated in my opening remarks that this Government have taken action. We have freed up the number of beds available through the DToC procedure, with an increase of 1,100 in the run-up to winter. We have also, as a result of the extra money we have been given, including the several million pounds given to the hon. Lady’s area, provided an additional 2,700 winter beds. The procedure for future bed closures has been made very clear by NHS England: it will not happen unless acceptable alternative community provision is available in the area.

  • Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester, provided excellent care over the Christmas period, despite a 9% increase in the number of patients since last Christmas. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a tribute to excellent leadership, brilliant staff and innovative planning with other local community services to improve processes and anticipate this annual need?

  • My hon. Friend highlights articulately the fact that proper co-ordination between local authorities and NHS trusts in some areas means that they can cope with the pressures better than others. I commend the example that she has given.

  • I worked as a doctor on the NHS frontline last week. I saw elderly patients who would have been better off being looked after at home by community and social care, and people waiting far too long for ambulances. Cancelling non-urgent work just makes more patients suffer. What does the Minister say to the woman with Crohn’s disease who is in pain and has terrible symptoms now that the bowel operation for which she has already been waiting for six months has been delayed again? The only way she will get the operation now is if things get even worse and she becomes an emergency case.

  • I put on the record my appreciation of the hon. Gentleman’s role not only on the Health Committee but in undertaking shifts, as he mentioned. On deferred procedures, we have given very clear instructions that time-critical operations should not be cancelled—cancer operations should not be cancelled. Ultimately, it comes down to the clinical decisions that are made at each hospital about who they should treat and who they believe can wait.

  • Clearly there is pressure on the NHS, including on the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle. However, does the Minister agree that we must not lose sight of the positives, such as the £1.8 million investment in cancer equipment that has just gone into the hospital and the proposed £38 million investment in a proposed cancer unit, all of which are in the long-term interests of healthcare in Carlisle and Cumbria?

  • Cumbria is one of the parts of the country that has had persistent challenges in the delivery of healthcare. I am pleased that decisions have been taken over the past year or so, including those about investing in improving cancer facilities in Carlisle that my hon. Friend referred to, which we hope will address long-standing issues that have not been addressed under successive Governments.

  • Despite the best efforts of NHS staff, patients in my area routinely waited over 12 hours just to be seen at hospital. We have heard from my hon. Friends about patients having to sleep on the floor. Will the Minister therefore take this opportunity to say that he will halt all further downgrades and closures of services in my area at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and Dewsbury and District Hospital until a full assessment of capacity has been undertaken?

  • A significant amount of funding—some £3.4 million—was made available to the hon. Lady’s area. Reconfiguration proposals are being driven by the STP process. It is down to local authority leaders and local NHS leaders and clinicians to determine what is the best configuration of services in their area.

  • In Oxfordshire, considerable effort is being put into growing home-based health and social care systems. Does the Minister accept that that will solve the problem of delayed discharges of care by preventing them in the first place?

  • I agree that prevention is an important part of the long-term solution to improve healthcare outcomes for the population. I believe we are on the cusp of some significant technological advances that will allow more treatment to take place at home and more diagnostic tests to be taken without the necessity of attending acute facilities. Oxfordshire is a good leader in that.

  • Of 106 emergency beds at St Mary’s in Paddington, 105 were in continuous occupation over Christmas. Not long ago, a ceiling collapsed in a ward in that hospital. It is coping with a £500 million maintenance backlog—the biggest by far in the country. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how St Mary’s Hospital will be assisted to cope with funding a maintenance backlog that, if things went wrong at the time of these pressures, would cause an absolute calamity?

  • I visited the A&E department at St Mary’s for a night shift a few months ago. I was not aware of the incident of ceiling damage that the hon. Lady referred to, but I would be very happy to meet her to discuss it.

  • As my hon. Friend and his colleagues continue to wrestle with the conundrum of the merging of social care and healthcare, I urge him to keep at the front of his mind in his discussions with healthcare providers the importance of beds in community, district and cottage hospitals in providing a segue between acute settings and returning home.

  • My hon. Friend is a lively champion of the community hospitals in his area, which I know provide an important service, but I am afraid that I must again refer to the STP proposals and say that it is for local clinicians and health and local authority leaders to decide what is best in their area.

  • The hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) should be doubly gratified to be acknowledged not merely as champion of the said hospitals but as a lively champion at that.

  • It is better than the alternative.

  • It is better than the alternative.

  • Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and the East Midlands Ambulance Service have both declared the highest level of alert in recent days. Despite the heroic efforts of NHS staff, emergency patients’ care, safety and dignity have been put at risk, and of course other patients have had their operations cancelled. Does this not confirm that the Government’s preparations and resourcing were too little and too late?

  • As I have tried to explain to the House, the preparations began earlier, have involved more alternative measures than ever before and have been accompanied by considerable resource allocations right across the country, including, I think, £3.4 million to the hon. Lady’s area.

  • Our fine GP surgeries around the country are facing the challenge of their neighbouring practices not being as well run, while many practitioners are choosing to retire because of our pension rules. Is it now time for the state to step in and provide practice where the private area will not cover?

  • Clinical commissioning groups have a responsibility to provide cover in every area, so if a practice does close, it is up to the CCG to ensure alternative provision. That responsibility is part of the NHS mandate and remains with it.

  • Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which serves my constituency, has advised the public to attend A&E for serious or life-threatening conditions only and the rest to visit the local pharmacist or call 111. What immediate help will the Minister give to community pharmacies and the 111 helpline to help them to cope with the increased demand?

  • The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point to the increased demand channelled in part through very local facilities such as pharmacies and NHS 111. The latter has seen a 21.5% increase in the volume of calls in the last month, but, despite that, has had nearly a doubling, compared with a year ago, of the number of calls dealt with by a clinician—just under 40%—which is very impressive.

  • On my behalf and that, I hope, of the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), may I welcome the £4.2 million of additional winter funding for the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust? To remind the Labour party what an NHS crisis really is, will my hon. Friend tell the House who was in charge at the time of the Mid Staffs crisis—

  • Order. I have tried over a period of seven and a half years to educate the hon. Gentleman, and I am afraid that on the whole my efforts have been unavailing. I have tried to explain to him that his responsibility is to ask questions about the policy of the Government, for which it is the responsibility of the Government to answer; it is not the occasion for asking questions about the policy of the Opposition or the opposing party when in government. It is a point that is so blindingly obvious that only an extraordinarily sophisticated person could fail to grasp it.

  • Royal Stoke University Hospital in my constituency faces a double whammy during this winter crisis: an estimated net cost of £8 million even with the Government’s investment of this period and the loss of income as a result of the cancelation of elective surgery where income has been put to one side. How does the Minister expect the Royal Stoke and the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust to meet that cost? Given that CCGs will now have a windfall because of cancelled operations, how will he make sure that that money is reinvested in community and acute services?

  • As I said earlier, it is our intent to review what has happened in relation to deferred procedures this month and over the winter, and we are monitoring that on a weekly basis. We will also keep under close review what happens with individual trusts as a result of the imbalance between income and expenditure.

  • The Minister is a very good man and an excellent Minister, in my opinion, but what does it say about the priorities of the Government when they are allowing so many operations to be cancelled over the next few weeks, while also pouring more and more money every year into overseas aid? I say to the Government through the Minister that people are now angry about this in the country. Billions of pounds every year are being spent on overseas aid when it is so clearly needed by vulnerable people at home in the UK. Will the Government get a grip on this? They will be massively out of touch with public opinion if they do not.

  • Let me gently say to my hon. Friend, who is also an important champion of the hospital in his area—we had a meeting before Christmas to talk about allocating medical places—that deferred procedures have happened at the rate of tens of thousands a quarter for very many years. What we have done differently this time is give notice to patients and hospitals that they should rearrange their schedules weeks rather than hours or days in advance.

  • During this winter crisis, has the Minister ever stopped to think what a barmy idea it was to allow the clinical commissioning groups to close, or threaten to close, a number of community hospitals in all parts of Britain, including Bolsover and several others in Derbyshire? Will he now get to that Dispatch Box and reverse that barmy decision?

  • As the hon. Gentleman well knows, STP plans are being developed by local NHS leaders, clinicians and local authorities, and it is they who are making recommendations in some parts of the country for changes in the configuration of services.

  • Order. I am sorry, but we must now move on.