Skip to main content

Urgent and Emergency Care

Volume 731: debated on Tuesday 25 April 2023

7. What progress his Department has made on the delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services. (904606)

9. What progress his Department has made on the delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services. (904608)

The urgent and emergency care recovery plan sets out how we will invest more than £1 billion in increasing capacity, including 800 new ambulances, an additional 5,000 core beds and a further 3,000 virtual wards, to provide more than 10,000 out-of-hospital care settings.

A key component of delivering better urgent care services will be expanding the network of urgent treatment centres across the country. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that a UTC in the major population centre of Northampton will be a high priority for the Department?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of UTCs. Nationally, they are above the national standard: 95.5% of patients are seen within four hours. He is a highly effective campaigner on health issues—he helped to secure the £2.8 million of investment for a new paediatric emergency department in his local area—and I know that he will be making a similar case to his local commissioners.

Ultimately, the best way to improve urgent and emergency care services is through new build, purpose-built hospitals. Can the Secretary of State confirm where we are with the Royal Berkshire Hospital and Frimley Park?

As the House knows, I am extremely committed to modern methods of construction and modular building capacity. We are using that as a central component of our new 40 hospitals programme. My hon. Friend will know that the RAAC—reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete—hospitals are very much part of that discussion, not just at Frimley but at King’s Lynn, at Hinchingbrooke and in a whole range of other settings. He will also know that we are in a purdah period, so we are constrained in what we can say, but we will have more to say on this very shortly.

We have had 13 years of Conservative government. There are record numbers of patients on waiting lists, record numbers of vacancies in the NHS, and a crisis of vacancies in social care. As for emergency care, the Government cannot meet their 18-minute target for category 2 ambulance responses. If the Conservatives were really concerned about the NHS, would we not be in a better position than this after 13 years?

The hon. Gentleman talks of 13 years. People are nearly twice as likely to be waiting for treatment in the Labour-run Welsh NHS as people seeking treatment in England, and, indeed, waits are longer in Wales: we have virtually eliminated two-year waits in England, whereas more than 41,000 people in Labour-run Wales are waiting more than two years.

I recently conducted a major surgery—[Laughter]—I mean a major survey of Rotherham residents to learn about their experiences of the NHS. A staggering 73% of respondents who had called ambulances needing a category 1 response had waited longer than the seven-minute target time. Given that minutes can mean the difference between life and death, what are the Government doing to ensure that my constituents receive the life-saving support that they need, when they need it?

I know we have clinicians in the House who do second jobs, but I did not know that the hon. Lady had expanded that definition to such an extent! She is right to highlight, through her survey, the importance of timely care. There is currently a range of initiatives, such as the development of the NHS app, the review of the 111 service, and the examination of innovations such as artificial intelligence. We are looking into how we can manage demand in the case of, in particular, frail elderly people by noting changes in behaviour patterns, which will allow us to ensure that, for example, someone who has a fall at home receives care much earlier before arriving in the accident and emergency department, because we know that once frail elderly people have been admitted they will often be in hospital for about 14 days. The hon. Lady has raised an extremely important issue through her survey, and one on which we are focusing in our urgent and emergency recovery plan.

That urgent and emergency care plan, which was announced in January, was received with acclaim by me and, indeed, with wide acclaim. It was described as a two-year plan to stabilise services by, for instance, returning to the A&E target that the Secretary of State has mentioned. What assessment has he made of the impact of the ongoing industrial dispute among the Agenda for Change cohort, and, of course, the junior doctors, on the delivery of the plan?

As a result of the fantastic work of Sir Jim Mackey and Professor Tim Briggs through the Getting It Right First Time programme, we have been making significant progress in respect of elective procedures. When it comes to urgent and emergency care, there are lessons coming out of the various strikes which we are keen to adopt, but this situation is also clearly having an impact on patients and the number of cancellations. As my hon. Friend well knows, we publish the figures.

We have been working constructively with the NHS Staff Council. Unison voted by a majority of 74% to support the deal, there will be further votes this week from other key trade unions, and there will be a decision from the staff council on 2 May. Obviously, that will be extremely important when it comes to addressing the concern highlighted by my hon. Friend.

According to figures that I obtained recently from the House of Commons Library, in January 2023 54.4% of patients who were treated after an urgent referral received their first treatment within 62 days of that referral. The target is 85%. The figure for performance in January 2020, before covid, was 73.6%. Why has there been such a deterioration?

To be honest, I think the position is mixed. In certain areas we have seen significant improvements in performance: the faster diagnosis standard, for example, was hit for the first time this month. Purdah prevents me from going into the details of the 78-week wait, but I expect to be able to update the House very soon on the progress that has been made. As the hon. Gentleman says, there are still challenges as a consequence of the pandemic, but we are seeing much more progress than the NHS in Wales, and it is also worth reminding the House that, through Barnett consequentials, the Welsh NHS receives more funding that the NHS in England.

This may surprise you, Mr Speaker, but I have found evidence that the Health Secretary has got something right. He recently hailed the power of local news outlets, and he was spot on. I have here a story from his local paper, exposing the shocking length of waits in A&E for those in a mental health crisis: 5.4 million hours across England in just one year. He is very welcome to have a look if he would like to. Given his admiration for local journalism, does he feel embarrassed for his Government’s failings and will he apologise to all the people across the country who are stuck waiting in A&E?

There are two separate issues there: what we are doing for mental health in-patients and the point we just touched on about A&E. On mental health, it is good of the hon. Lady to give me the opportunity to remind the House of the significant increase in funding we are making to mental health. In the long-term plan, the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), made a major strategic choice to invest more in mental health—an extra £2.3 billion per year. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the need for more capacity for mental health in-patients—[Interruption.] She asked a question on what we are doing on mental health. I am able to tell her that we are spending far more and investing far more in it, but it seems that she does not want to hear that answer.