Winter is the most challenging time of year for our NHS, when cold weather and an increase in flu cases place additional pressures on the service. As ever, the NHS staff have done an amazing job this winter, and the NHS has seen a significant increase in demand, with 1 million more patients attending A&E in 2019. The December figures, when compared with those in 2018, show a 6.5% increase on attendance at A&E.
I do not know whether the Minister is aware, but we have a winter every year. We have had one for the past 71 years, and yet these are the worst A&E waiting times in history, and they are the culmination of the policies that his party has followed for the past nine years: the cuts in social care, the number of GPs driven out of practices, and this Government’s failure on prevention. All of that has led us to the worst A&E waiting times in history, and the Minister’s answer does not start to look at the failure that he has delivered.
Well, as I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman—he may not have heard this—demand in A&E has significantly increased this winter. He asks about GPs. I am sure he fully supports our clear commitment to 50 million more GP appointments and 6,000 more GPs. I am sure he also welcomes, in his own constituency, the £19 million investment by this Government in 2017 in a new urgent treatment centre, which will serve his constituents and is due to start work this summer.[Official Report, 29 January 2020, Vol. 670, c. 6MC.]
Between winter 2018 and winter 2019, the proportion of A&E attendances in Bradford that were seen within the four-hour target fell by seven percentage points, putting patients at risk and overstretching already pressured staff. In Health questions in October last year, I warned the Minister of these very real dangers, but he refused to meet me even to discuss the matter. Will he now answer the question as to why further funding was not made available to stop staff and patients at Bradford Royal Infirmary being put at risk?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that Bradford treated more people in A&E this winter than in any previous one, and although he may have omitted to do so, I want to pay tribute to and thank the staff at Bradford for that work. The Conservative party is the party that is investing in our NHS, our A&Es and our staff, and the hon. Gentleman should welcome that.
I think it is time that we shook this Government out of their complacency. On their watch, the four-hour A&E waiting target has never been met, and performance is getting worse each month. It is no wonder they are putting so much effort into getting rid of it. We agree with the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, who said:
“Rather than focus on ways around the target, we need to get back to the business of delivering on it.”
Does the Minister agree?
First, 1.7 million more people are being seen within the four-hour target now than before 2010. I hope that the shadow Minister will acknowledge that that reflects the significant increase in demand due to the number of people going through the system. He talks about the review of standards. That is a clinically-led review, and I am sure he would want to let those clinicians lead it. We will see what it reports and will consider its recommendations when they come back to us. In the meantime, we are getting on with investing in our NHS, and improving services.