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Covid-19: NHS Bed Capacity

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 12 January 2021

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on bed capacity throughout the NHS. (910597)

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on bed capacity throughout the NHS. (910627)

Covid, and particularly the new strain of covid, has had a significant impact on NHS bed capacity. As of 10 January, 30,758 beds across the NHS were occupied by covid patients. In just the past day, that has risen to around 32,000, which is over a third of all available beds. The latest bed occupancy data shows that just shy of 80,000 of the NHS’s roughly 90,000 total general and acute beds were occupied.

It is great that the NHS, as I have heard locally, is working hard to stop intensive care beds from running out after a decade of no expansion, now that a major incident has been declared in London. However, can the Minister guarantee that this will not just be a bureaucratic exercise? Will we take a population-based approach, listen to clinicians in apportioning capacity and allow hospitals in high-need mixed ethnicity areas, such as Ealing Hospital, which is currently on a black alert, their fair share, rather than the powerful players—the central London teaching hospitals—always getting all the extra allocation?

I can reassure the hon. Lady that beds and increased capacity, where we put them in place, are allocated on the basis of where they are needed. She is right to highlight the pressure that her local hospital trust, London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, is under. The team there, as across the NHS, are doing an amazing job, but the critical care bed occupancy rate in her trust was 98.7% on the latest figures I have. That is extremely significant pressure, but I can give her the reassurance that we look to ensure that all areas receive the resources they need.

London has declared a state of emergency and the stark reality is that at this rate we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks. At least two NHS hospitals in the capital have already postponed urgent cancer surgery and figures show that treatment levels are failing to keep pace with demand. Will the Minister therefore commit to fully opening the London Nightingale hospital, secure the use of London’s private hospitals for cancer treatment, and invest in the number of beds in our NHS for the long term?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the pressure that the NHS and critical care are under in London and, indeed, more broadly. I pay tribute again to all those who are working in the NHS, including my shadow, who I suspect has been on the frontline in recent days—I pay tribute to her, too. The best way we can thank them is by following the advice to stay at home and to follow the rules. In respect of her specific point, yes, we are involving independent sector capacity, Nightingale capacity and increasing NHS capacity—all those, alongside other measures—to ensure our NHS continues to be able to treat those who need this care at this time.

Last night, I finished a shift in a busy east London hospital, sharing difficult news with hopeful families. The resilience of staff on the frontline can never be matched, but across the country morale is on a cliff edge. A decade of cuts to beds, services and staff, combined with pay freezes, has left NHS workers undermined and undervalued. Without our incredible staff, a hospital bed is just that —a bed. So does the Health Minister regret how the Government have made frontline workers feel and can he promise to change that?

I reiterate, as I did earlier, my thanks to the hon. Lady and all her colleagues in the NHS for everything they are doing. I reassure her, as I do and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does at every opportunity, just how valued and supported our NHS is. We have put in place just over 1,000 additional critical care bed capacity at this time—the right thing to do. In addition, in respect of supporting staff, we are investing about £15 million—just one example—for mental health hubs and mental health support for staff. I saw, from the hospital that she works in, or has worked in, in her constituency, a number of staff—it was on the BBC recently—setting out just how flat out they are. The best way we can thank them, alongside what we are doing—I make no apologies for reiterating it, Mr Speaker—is by all following the rules to stay at home to help to ease the pressure on those phenomenally hard-working and valued staff in our NHS hospitals.