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Winter Pressure on NHS Services

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2023

We know that winter is hard for the NHS, as it is for other health systems. That is why we started planning for this winter earlier than ever before—back in January, when we published our urgent and emergency care recovery plan, which funds more beds and new ambulances for our NHS, funds more social care in our communities, joins up care, and makes the most of technology, so that more people can get the care they need when and where they most need it.

Two accident and emergency departments serve patients in Hornsey and Wood Green. One is now serving double the number of visits by patients and is buckling under the pressure; and the other has seen 4,000 extra patients this year compared with last. What are the Government going to do about overcrowding in accident and emergency?

The hon. Member is right that our hospitals are busier; we are seeing more patients in A&Es. That is why we are doing two things with our work on urgent and emergency care. One is providing more capacity—more hospital beds, more hours of ambulances on the road, and more capacity in social care to help with discharges. We are also doing things differently by seeing more people out of hospital, avoiding people coming to hospital unnecessarily, and providing more care at home; for instance, our 10,000 “hospital at home” beds are helping people recover at home, which is better for them and better for the system.

I know the considerable work the Department and NHS England have done preparing for winter. Given the importance of the NHS workforce, who do such an incredible job, and noting that there are still a few months to go, will the Minister update the House on the delivery of our manifesto commitment for an additional 50,000 nurses?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the excellent work he did as a Health Minister. It was a real pleasure to work alongside him and see what a difference he made for our constituents across the country. He asks a very good question about the work we are doing to increase the capacity of the NHS and ensure that it has the workforce it needs, including by delivering on our manifesto commitment to 50,000 more nurses for the NHS, which we have achieved.

One way the Minister could help Harrow’s health services be better prepared for this winter and future winters would be to invest in new intensive care beds at Northwick Park Hospital, which serves my constituents. Given that the Government have been told repeatedly that their promised 40 new hospitals are about as real as the Prime Minister’s meat tax, why do Ministers not invest in a hospital that actually exists and provide a new purpose-built intensive care facility at Northwick Park Hospital?

I assure the hon. Member that we are investing in the national health service and, in particular, supporting it to prepare for this winter, ensuring there is more capacity in the system. There will be 5,000 more beds in hospitals around the country this winter, as well as 800 new ambulances on the road. But we are also doing things differently. The future of healthcare is not just about hospitals, but about caring for more people out of hospital. For instance, we are investing in proactive care, so that in every neighbourhood, the people who are more likely to go into hospital are known and reached out to, and the care is available for them. That is one of the things we are doing to ensure that people receive care when and where they need it.

Sleaford and North Hykeham is a beautiful rural constituency, but living in a rural area means people are further from specialist medical services, which is a particular challenge in the winter months when the roads can be difficult to travel on. As the winter approaches, what is the Minister doing to ensure that constituents in rural areas are well looked after?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the additional challenges in rural areas. I want to ensure that this winter people get care when they need it and get it faster. We are already seeing progress on that. For instance, we are investing in making sure there are more ambulance hours on the road, and we are seeing ambulances get to people quicker—in fact, this October, they got to people 20 minutes faster than last October. Ambulance handover delays are reducing and we are already seeing progress in A&E, where people are being seen faster, too.

Under the last Labour Government, there was no winter crisis. Under the Tories, we have gone from no winter crisis, to an annual crisis, to a crisis all year around. Rather than tackling the crisis at source, this Government have only sticking-plaster solutions for a few months at a time. How will patients know that a winter crisis has been avoided if problems persist into the spring?

I am really sorry, but the hon. Member’s memory appears to be very short. I was working in healthcare when there was a Labour Government and I remember very well problems for the NHS during winter. She does not even need to look back into the past; she can look at the Labour-run NHS in Wales, where they are having so much difficulty with A&E performance that they even fudged the figures and hid a whole load of patients so people would not notice what was going on.