I beg to move,
That this House supports NHS England’s four-hour standard, which sets out that a minimum of 95 per cent of all patients to A&E will be treated within four hours; notes the widespread public and medical professional support for this standard; further notes that £4.6 billion has been cut from the social care budget since 2010 and that NHS funding will fall per head of population in 2018-19 and 2019-20; and calls on the Government to bring forward extra funding now for social care to help hospitals cope this winter, and to pledge a new improved funding settlement for the NHS and social care in the March 2017 Budget.
I begin by paying tribute to the staff working in the NHS. To nurses, midwives, GPs, consultants, junior doctors, paramedics—all staff—we say thank you for your hard work, goodwill, commitment and dedication though this winter crisis. I had the pleasure of meeting some of those hard-working staff with my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) at St George’s hospital on Monday, and they told me of the pressures they face. Last night, I convened a summit of representatives of various royal colleges and trade unions working in the health service to meet staff and hear directly from the frontline of the pressures we now see in hospitals every day. Many royal colleges have spoken out today, warning of underfunding and understaffing. Over the past few days, I have received messages from doctors and clinicians from across the country who tell of the immense pressure, strain and, yes, crisis that we face this winter.
Let me share with the House some of the stories that I have been told, and I deliberately exclude the names of hospitals and trusts so as not to cause undue stress and alarm. This is a flavour of what I have heard. One doctor told me:
“There was a point when A&E was completely full and we had no space for a major trauma call that was coming in. The trauma case was going to have to be put into a corridor because the resuscitation area was full.”
“In my A&E ‘Corridor Care’ isn’t unusual, it’s now the norm. Patient buzzers have actually been installed on the walls in said corridor.”
How about this:
“We’re…trying our best to keep patients safe but there aren’t enough of us and we’re on our knees. Doctor and nurses in tears”?
“Over the weekend my bosses repeatedly asked for ambulances to be diverted away from our hospital because we had no beds, but we had multiple requests denied.”
Finally, another one:
“The A&E is perpetually rammed with the corridor full of ambulance trolleys and paramedics.”
I have many more examples, but I am sure the House understands the broader point that I am trying to make.
There is unprecedented pressure in Wirral, too. As recently as last week A&E attendances and GP referrals were massively up. Unprecedentedly, 84 additional beds are being laid on, and they are now full. Last week, all elective in-patient appointments were cancelled and ambulance turnarounds reached up to five hours. At Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister did not seem to think that there is a crisis in the NHS. If this is not a crisis, can my hon. Friend tell us what is?
The Royal Stoke in my city is under intense pressure. No doubt, we will hear shortly from the Secretary of State that that is winter pressure. Winter has not really started. We have not really had a winter, yet we have been under this pressure not for a few weeks but for months. The whole NHS system is broken. That is the problem that we really face.
My hon. Friend makes an eloquent point about the particular situation that has been facing Stoke for some time, of which many of us are aware. I hope the Secretary of State will touch on the situation in Stoke, because sadly it is one that we have had to raise previously.
If I may, I will make a little progress. I promise to try to give way to as many hon. Members as possible.
I assure the Secretary of State that I will pass on the names of the trusts and hospitals that I highlighted, so perhaps he can look into them. Let us be absolutely clear that these desperate stories are not the words of politicians trying to score political points but are the honest, heartfelt, considered testimonies of doctors and clinicians on the frontline in our hospitals. They simply want to do the very best for their patients. Indeed, many clinicians want to speak out but feel that they cannot, which is why the remarks were made anonymously.
According to reports on the BBC’s “You and Yours”, the Prime Minister has sent instructions to hospital trust chief executives telling them not to speak out. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State verified those reports.
I worked in the NHS over the Christmas period. Although it has been a very tough winter so far, this is nothing new. I have worked in the NHS for more than 20 years, and under previous Governments we had ambulances queuing around the block to get into A&E. Major incidents were declared in A&Es because they were too full. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that this is not a new problem?
I entirely respect the hon. Lady’s work as a nurse before she came into this place—[Hon. Members: “She still is.”] I beg her pardon. She is still a nurse, and I genuinely respect her, but if we are not raising these matters on behalf of our constituents, we are failing in our responsibility as Members of Parliament. We must never forget that this is not just about the staff in our NHS; it is about patients and their safety, which must always be our absolute priority.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for kindly giving way and for his important remarks. I echo his point that this is about patients across the country. My constituent’s mother, Angela, has been waiting for an acute mental health bed for more than a week. She was taken in an ambulance to A&E, but she could not be treated locally in Liverpool because the department was full. She was treated for the physical effects of her mental health condition in an ambulance and sent home. Her family are devastated and are concerned about her condition. Her story is one of countless stories across the country, and we need to recollect and focus on those stories today.
My hon. Friend speaks passionately, as she always does, on behalf of her constituents and, more broadly, on mental health provision. Again, I hope the Secretary of State will respond to her on the specifics of that case.
My hon. Friend talks about patient care, and she is absolutely right. All of us, or at least many of us, in this House will have been getting stories from constituents telling us of their recent experiences in hospitals. I have been given a few, and I will share some heart-breaking examples with the House. Again, I will not reveal the names of trusts and hospitals, but I will pass them on to the Secretary of State after the debate.
Example No. 1 is of a mum of four children under 10 years old who has a secondary tumour in her liver. She was due to go into hospital this Thursday to have the tumour removed. Her surgery has been delayed for at least two weeks, so that the hospital could cope with the winter crisis and because no beds are available. She has not yet been given a new date.
Someone else got in touch with me this morning. Their wife has been on the waiting list for a knee replacement since April last year. An appointment for early December was cancelled owing to the hospital being on black alert. A few weeks later, the hospital phoned with an appointment for today, which was cancelled yesterday.
Again, these patients are not trying to score political points or to politicise matters. They are decent, hard-working people who are simply desperate for something to be done.
Conservative Members care deeply about patients. I personally follow up on the individual stories and challenges experienced by my constituents, but the hon. Gentleman has surely seen the guidance this week from NHS Providers, which is not always a friend of the Government, that said that we need to be careful when extrapolating from individual incidents in hospitals that are under particular pressure and implying that they constitute a wider trend. Yes, times are tough in the NHS, and there are winter pressures, but he should not make inappropriate use of individual stories.
The hon. Lady should be careful. I will be charitable, but she would not want to give the impression that she is dismissing the stories and examples that I am highlighting. NHS Providers has continually warned of the chronic underfunding of the NHS under this Government, and it has continually warned that, head for head, spending in this country will fall next year. If she wants to quote NHS Providers, she should quote all the facts from NHS Providers.
My hon. Friend is telling some shocking stories. Was he as shocked as I was to hear Government Members shouting at and heckling the Leader of the Opposition during Prime Minister’s questions? They shouted, “What about Wales?” Does my hon. Friend agree that there is actually a stark contrast in Wales? Welsh Labour is delivering 6% more funding than in England for the NHS and social care. We have brand new hospitals, including in my constituency, and an £80 million new treatment fund was announced yesterday to allow better access to treatments.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that every winter, for as long as I can recall, we have had a winter crisis in the NHS? It usually happens after Christmas. In winter the demands on the service become unpredictable, infections spread and the NHS starts losing staff. There are bound to be parts of the system that come under very real strain, and no one is trying to minimise the fact that they do. Apart from just producing this year’s crop of stories of very unfortunate incidents in various places, does he have any policy proposal at all, apart from simply spending more money wherever the reports are coming from?
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is a very experienced parliamentarian, for his intervention, but he will know that this is one of the worst winters for probably 20 years. He casually suggests that this happens every year, but I remember the years of a Labour Government when it did not happen. I remember the years of a Labour Government when we went further than the financial settlements he delivered as Chancellor of the Exchequer and were more than doubling the money going into the NHS—and tripling it in cash terms.
If I may, I would like to make a bit of progress. I promise my hon. Friends, and indeed Conservative Members, that I will try to give way as much as possible, but I am very aware that many Members have put in to speak.
We are all becoming familiar—far too familiar perhaps—with the grim statistics: in December, 50 of the 152 English hospital trusts called for urgent action to cope with demand; the number of patients being turned away from A&E and sent to other hospitals is at a record high; A&E departments have turned patients away more than 140 times; and 15 hospitals ran out of beds in one day in December. Last night, the BBC revealed that leaked documents from NHS Improvement showed that there were more than 18,000 trolley waits of four hours or more; that almost a quarter of patients waited longer than four hours in A&E last week, with just one hospital—just one—hitting its target; and that since the start of December, hospitals have seen only 82.3% of patients who attended A&E within the four-hour target. We will return to the four-hour target in a few moments.
Ministers can try to deny what is going on, but they cannot deny these facts about what is happening this winter in the NHS on their watch. We know that what happens in the NHS in the winter is a signifier of a wider crisis, because across the piece bed occupancy levels now routinely exceed the recommended maximum level of 85%—often to levels higher than 95%. As I have said, the NHS is going through the largest financial squeeze in its history. Indeed, the former Secretary of State, Lord Lansley, said that five years of NHS austerity had been planned for, but having 10 years of it was never expected. We have seen £4.6 billion cut from social care budgets—
I will give way in a moment. As the King’s Fund said, the reason there is a problem is quite simply because there is a
“mismatch between funding and activity”
affecting our hospitals. The response of Ministers, from the Prime Minister downwards, has been one of utter complacency. The Secretary of State told “Sky News” on Monday that things had only been
“falling over in a couple of places”.
When he came to the House on Monday to make his statement, he did not commit to extra emergency funding for social care and he did not promise that the financial settlements would be reassessed in the March Budget. It is worse than that, because while he was making his statement, his spin doctors were telling the Health Service Journal—this on the day when the winter crisis is leading the news and he is making a statement in the House—and letting it be known that there is “no prospect” of
“additional funding to support emergency care any time before the next election.”
So there is nothing for social care, nothing for emergency care, nothing to tackle understaffing and nothing to tackle underfunding—well thank you very much. What did we get as a response? We got a downgrade of the four-hour A&E target.
The Secretary of State shakes his head and says, “Nonsense”, but let me remind him of what he said in the House on Monday:
“we need to have an honest discussion with the public about the purpose of A&E departments.”
He began by saying he wanted to provoke a discussion. He has certainly provoked a backlash, not least by blaming the public, it seems, for turning up at A&E departments. He went on to say that the four-hour target
“is a promise to sort out all urgent health problems within four hours”,
but he added a little clarification, continuing:
“but not all health problems, however minor.”—[Official Report, 9 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 38.]
That is what he said in the House, and now we have seen the letter from NHS Improvement to trusts a few weeks ago, which talks of
“broadening our oversight of A&E”.
On the four-hour standard, it said that it believed
“there is merit in broadening our oversight approach, beyond a single metric”.
So in the interests of that discussion the Secretary of State wants to engage in, perhaps he can answer our questions, although I know he avoided the questions on Sky yesterday. Does he recall that in 2015, when he asked Sir Bruce Keogh to review these matters on waiting times, Sir Bruce said:
“The A&E standard has been an important means of ensuring people who need it get rapid access to urgent and emergency care and we must not lose this focus”?
I will give way in a few moments. Sir Bruce continued:
“I do not consider that there is a case for changing the 4 hour standard at this time.”
Does the Secretary of State still agree with Bruce Keogh? If he does, why did he make his remarks on Monday about needing to have a discussion about the future of the A&E standard?
I will give way in a few moments. If the Secretary of State wants to lead a discussion about the future of the four-hour A&E standard, will he tell us what discussions he has had with the Royal College of Emergency Medicine? It argues that the four-hour standard is a vital measure of performance and safety, and believes the standard should apply to at least 95% of all patients attending emergency departments. If he says he is still committed to that four-hour standard, is he still committed to maintaining it at 95%?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work she is doing on tackling loneliness. I know that all Labour Members very much appreciate the work she is doing on that, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves). The Government amendment is conspicuous in not referring to all patients.
The Secretary of State did distinguish between “urgent” and “minor”—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) says I should get a haircut. Did he say that? No? I beg his pardon, but he heckles so much it is sometimes difficult to hear what he is saying. Can the Secretary of State tell us how he would define the difference between urgent and minor care for instances relating to this four-hour standard? Can he tell us what will be the minimum severity of physical injury or other medical problem which will be needed for a patient to qualify for access to an A&E? How will we determine these new access standards? How quickly will they be available? Will patients with visible injuries be exempt from a new triage system? If so, which injuries will qualify? If the Secretary of State is not moving away from this four-hour standard, he needs to clarify matters urgently, because the impression has been given that he is doing so. [Interruption.] Not by me, but by his own remarks in the House on Monday. If he is not moving away from that standard, will he guarantee that he will not shift away at all from it throughout this Parliament and that it will remain at its current rate?
I, too, was in the Chamber on Monday and I listened carefully to the Secretary of State then. He was challenged by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) on the target and was asked whether he was watering it down. He said explicitly that “far from watering down” he was recommitting the Government to it. He was generous to the Labour party in saying that it was one of the best things the NHS did. I think that was very clear.
Let me say to the former Chief Whip that the Secretary of State said that
“we need to be clear that it is a promise to sort out all urgent health problems within four hours, but not all health problems, however minor.”—[Official Report, 9 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 38.]
The Secretary of State did not need to come to the House to make those remarks and set these various hares running, so the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) should make his objections not to me, but to the Secretary of State—
I am going to move on a little.
If the Secretary of State is not abandoning the four-hour standard, as he insists he is not, we look forward to hearing him make that absolutely clear. He also said and has implied that we need to educate the public better, so that they do not turn up at A&E departments. That was the implication of his remarks on Monday. Will he tell us how he is going to do that? What will be the cost implications of explaining to the public that they must not turn up at A&E departments? Are we expecting to see a large advertising campaign? Will the cost fall on local authorities’ public health budgets, which have already been cut? Will local authorities be given more resources for this new public education campaign?
My hon. Friend is making an important point. The key similarity is that back in 1997, when Labour took over, the health service was in crisis, and it is again today. Is not part of the problem that people are having to go to A&E because they cannot get in to see their GP?
Absolutely. It is so difficult to get to a GP, which is why there are all these pressures on our A&Es. Of course, it is only going to get worse, because this year we are going to see cuts to community pharmacies—3,000 will be lost from our towns and streets because of the cuts that are being pursued. Let us not forget that the figure of 3,000 community pharmacies being lost was what the previous Minister, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), told MPs.
I presume what the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) meant to say was that two Back-Bench Labour Members took part in the debate—I was one of them. Does my hon. Friend agree that the point about community pharmacies, GPs and investment in social care is that they save the Government money? That is why they should invest in them now to take pressure off A&Es.
I thank my hon. Friend for correcting the record about that debate in Westminster Hall.
The Secretary of State denies that he is going to water down the A&E target; we welcome that, but we will watch carefully to ensure that he does not sneakily water it down throughout the remaining years of the Parliament. Will he tell us what he expects to happen next as we go through the winter? Weather warnings have been issued, and we could be heading for a cold snap. Will he update us on what urgent preparations he is putting in place to ensure that the NHS can cope? Is the NHS prepared for a flu outbreak, and what is his assessment of whether overstretched hospitals will be able to cope if there is one? It appears that, so far, Ministers have been burying their heads in the sand, but that will no longer do.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) both made the point that the issues in the NHS are historical. On Radio 4 this morning the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) said he accepted that the previous Labour Government had not spent the right amount of money on social care. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that these issues are historical—they are not new—and that Labour does not have all the answers?
I agree with the shadow Secretary of State that we need to have an honest debate, so does he accept that he stood on a general election manifesto that would have seen Labour spend billions less on our national health service? Will he set out for the House exactly what NHS services he would be spending less on now?
We stood on a manifesto that would have delivered more doctors and nurses for our NHS; the hon. Gentleman stood on a manifesto that said the Conservatives would cut the deficit and not the NHS. They are cutting the NHS and failing on the deficit.
I have a few direct questions for the Secretary of State about Royal Worcestershire hospital. I was grateful for his remarks on Monday, but I want to press him a little further. It has been reported that NHS England was warned of a bed crisis as early as 22 December. Will he update the House on what urgent meetings he is having on Royal Worcestershire? When will we be closer to knowing the outcome of an inquiry? In that context, there is a proposal in the sustainability and transformation plan for the Worcestershire area for a significant reduction in the number of acute beds. The Secretary of State will say that these are local plans and so on, but in the context of the issues in Worcestershire, will he comment on whether he thinks that is the right proposal to follow?
On STPs more generally, the NHS is going through a winter crisis, and it is about to go through another top-down reorganisation—[Interruption.] Someone says it is bottom-up, but it is not; we know it is coming from the top. Those making the STPs are being told that they have to fill a financial gap of £21.764 billion—that is the reality that STPs throughout the country now have to face. We have seen the plans, so we know that that is going to mean a number of community hospitals being closed, a number of A&Es being downgraded, and acute beds being lost.
In places such as Devon, where the STP talks of an over-reliance on hospital beds, the implication is that beds will be lost. Closures and downgrades are being considered throughout Somerset, with their priority list of vulnerable services including maternity and paediatrics. In London, a city with the very worst health inequalities, the STPs are expected to deliver better health outcomes for the city’s growing 10 million residents with £4.3 billion less to spend. Will the Secretary of State explain to the House how he expects the NHS to perform in future winters, when we have a growing elderly population and STPs are pursuing multibillion-pound cuts to beds, A&Es and wider services?
I was recently briefed by an excellent and well-respected local GP and a clinical psychiatrist, who were the authors of our county’s STP. Will the shadow Secretary of State explain how on earth they are responsible for a top-down reorganisation?
The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) mentioned infections spreading in the NHS. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the infection that is spreading on the Government Benches? It is the infection of arrogance, complacency and being completely out of touch with the patients and their families who are suffering under the current crisis. We are witnessing inaction on an epic scale.
In the past few moments, we have heard the ludicrous suggestion that Labour did not deliver on either spending or performance, but in fact our track record was excellent. That is not just my opinion; the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in 2011:
“I refuse to go back to the days when people had to wait for hours on end to be seen in A&E, or months and months to have surgery done. So let me be absolutely clear: we won’t.”
He knew that Labour had a good record and that the NHS used to be good; why will these Tories not admit it?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Indeed, I remember, when we were in government, shadow Health Secretaries standing at this Dispatch Box opposing every penny piece of money that Labour was putting into the NHS. I remember a shadow Health Secretary, who now sits in the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for International Trade, standing at this Dispatch Box and saying that the A&E target was “indecent.” That was the Tories’ attitude when we were in government, so it is no wonder that we are sceptical about the Government’s intentions for the A&E target when we look at their history.
I do not have the details of the Sussex STP to hand, but presumably if it contains any suggested closures the hon. Gentleman will be campaigning against them and knocking on the door of the Secretary of State, if those remarks are an indication of his point of view on these matters.
The hon. Gentleman is saying that everything was rosy under Labour, but he should remember that it was 10 years ago when the scandal at Mid Staffs broke, in which hundreds more elderly patients died than was projected. It was a terrible scandal and he should remember that. What our shadow team was doing at the time was holding the Labour Government to account.
I take all deaths in hospitals seriously. My commitment to patient safety is unswerving. I will continue to raise matters, whether it is at Royal Worcestershire or elsewhere, but not in a partisan way with the Secretary of State—[Interruption.] I was not being partisan when I was asking questions about the Royal Worcestershire. The Government Whip, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), really needs to calm down. I will raise these matters, because that is the responsible thing to do. It is unbecoming to play politics with patients in that way.
Culpability for the state that the NHS is in today lies at the door of Downing Street. The Government promised to protect the NHS and to cut the deficit, and they have not done so. The Government give away billion-pound tax cuts to corporations—[Interruption.] Yes, this Government. The Government waste billions, pushing the NHS in the direction of fragmentation and greater outsourcing, while ignoring the ever-lengthening queues of the sick and the elderly in all our constituencies.
Yesterday, we saw the Secretary of State on Sky losing his ministerial car and being chased down the street. It was his whole approach laid bare: not a clue where he is going; nothing to say; and not facing up to the problems. Last year, he blamed the junior doctors. On Monday, he blamed the patients. Today, he blames Simon Stevens. Tomorrow, he will blame the weather. It is time that the Health Secretary started pointing the finger at himself and not at everybody else. The NHS is in crisis, and Ministers are in denial. I say to the Government, on behalf of patients, their families and NHS staff, please get a grip. I commend our motion to the House.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” in line 1 to the end and add:
“commends NHS staff for their hard work in ensuring record numbers of patients are being seen in A&E; supports and endorses the target for 95 per cent of patients using A&E to be seen and discharged or admitted within four hours; welcomes the Government's support for the Five Year Forward View, the NHS's own plan to reduce pressure on hospitals by expanding community provision; notes that improvements to 111 and ensuring evening and weekend access to GPs, already covering 17 million people, will further help to relieve that pressure; and believes that funding for the NHS and social care is underpinned by the maintenance of a strong economy, which under this administration is now the fastest growing in the G7.”
I thank the shadow Health Secretary for bringing this afternoon’s debate to the House. He is right to draw attention to the pressures in the NHS, but, regrettably, I will have to spend much of my time correcting some totally inaccurate assertions that he has made, and that is a shame. This is an important debate for our constituents—for his and for mine—and for the NHS. The country deserves a proper debate, but that is difficult when we are given misinformation at a time when the NHS is under sustained pressure.
I am also very pleased to see the Leader of the Opposition in his place. I think that he has become rather a fan of my parliamentary appearances—[Interruption.] It is a Jeremy thing, he says—if only. I wish to address one part of my speech to him, because it is an area of policy for which he is perhaps more personally responsible.
Winter is always challenging period, and I want to repeat the thanks of the shadow Health Secretary and the thanks that I gave on Monday to NHS staff. According to NHS Improvement, on the Tuesday after Christmas the NHS had its busiest day ever. Earlier in December, it treated a record number of patients within four hours. Overall, as the Prime Minister said this morning, we are seeing 2,500 more patients within the four-hour standard every single day compared with what happened in 2010. As we discussed on Monday, the NHS made record numbers of preparations for this winter, because it is always a difficult time, including having 3,000 more nurses and 1,600 more doctors in full-time employment.
Let me address what the shadow Health Secretary said with regard to Worcestershire. I met colleagues from Worcestershire on Monday. A huge number of actions are now being taken, but we must say right up front that it is totally unacceptable for anyone to wait 35 hours on a trolley and that we expect the hospital to ensure that that does not happen again. There are plans in place to open additional bed capacity this week. We have already had capacity made available by Worcester Community Trust to support the flow. The trust has deployed its chief operating officer on the task of facilitating discharges. The trust is in special measures, so we have a big management change, and a new chief executive will be starting later on in the spring.
What is wrong with what the shadow Health Secretary has just said is the suggestion that winter problems are entirely unusual. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said, the NHS had difficult winters in 1999, 2008, and 2009. He remembers difficult winters from his time as Health Secretary, but there are things that are different today. One of them is that, compared with six years ago, we have 340,000 more over-80s, many of whom are highly vulnerable or have dementia. We know that when people of that age go to an A&E at this time of year, there is an 80% chance that they will be admitted to hospital.
The Secretary of State talks about correcting the points that have been made so that the House has the right information. May I repeat the question that I asked him on Monday? What are the latest figures—he should have them up to this week—for the number of people who could be discharged but have to remain in hospital because there is no community support available for them? Can he give us that figure now? He said that he would write to me, but he must know that figure now.
Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. I said that I would write to him, and I will do so. He may have noticed that there are other issues that we are dealing with, which is why I may not have had time to sign the letter. The £400 million extra for local authorities over the next two years will make a significant difference and he should recognise that.
I am attending this debate because there will be constituents in Bedford and Kent who are concerned about the headlines that they have read. I am pleased that the Secretary of State will correct some of the points that have been made. What our constituents want to know is what is being done, or what should be done. I listened for 33 minutes to the shadow Secretary of State—the Labour spokesman on the NHS—on this issue, and there was not a single new idea other than spending money. Will my right hon. Friend please provide some practical answers to the problems that are being raised in the papers?
I will give way, but first I want to make some progress.
I want to talk about something else that is different in our A&E departments today compared with six years ago. Although we are sticking to the four-hour target, we also insist on much higher standards of safety and quality.
On Monday, I congratulated Labour on the introduction of the four-hour target—I support it—but we should also remember that four years after that standard was introduced, we started to see some horrific problems at Mid Staffs, many of which were in the A&E department. Some were caused because people thought they would be fired if they missed the target. Robert Francis said that the failures at Mid Staffs were
“in part the consequence of allowing a focus on reaching national access targets.”
Therefore, although we retain targets, we will not allow them to be followed slavishly in a way that damages patient care.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. There are many other Members who want to intervene.
That is why we have a new inspection regime that makes it harder to cut corners in the way that used to happen when beds were not being washed, there was poor infection control and ambulances were being used as waiting rooms.
I am grateful to the Health Secretary for outlining some of the steps that he is taking in the face of this immediate emergency. Does he also recognise that the major cause of the problems in A&E is simply a lack of staff? Consequently, does he regret the huge cuts to training budgets in 2010, 2011 and 2012, which are having a real impact now on the number of nurses and doctors in our NHS?
I agree that staff numbers are critical, but we have, since 2010, 1,500 more doctors in our A&E departments and 600 more consultants. Across the NHS, we have more than 11,000 additional doctors, so we do recognise the pressures that the NHS faces. Indeed, we have 1,600 more doctors than this time last year, so we are doing a great deal to solve the problem.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to learn best practice in the NHS? The hospitals that manage to integrate health and social care, such as those in Wigan and Salford which have managed to create those beds, are providing examples of best practice from which the whole NHS can learn.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a mistake in this debate to try—as I understand Opposition parties want to do—to boil this all down to the issue of Government funding when there is actually a lot of variability in the country. At this time of year, which is always difficult, some hospitals are doing superbly well in extremely challenging circumstances. We have just heard about some of the hospitals that are doing well, and there are a number of them.
I will give way to as many people as I can, but I also want to address the substantive points made by the shadow Health Secretary. He talked about the four-hour target. In his motion and his speech, he made the totally spurious suggestion that we are not committed to that target. I remind him what my right hon. Friend the former Chief Whip quoted me as saying on Monday. I did not just commit the Government to the target; I said that it was one of the best things that the NHS does. However, I also said that we need to find different ways to offer treatment to people who do not need to be in A&E. It is hardly rocket science. When there is pressure in A&E, it is sensible—indeed, I would argue that it is the duty of the Health Secretary—to suggest that people who can relieve pressure on A&E by using other facilities do so.
Just yesterday at Crawley hospital, an acute care unit was opened, which is designed precisely to ensure that people who do not need to attend A&E are properly directed to the most appropriate care, which is good for them as individual patients and good for the whole system.
That is absolutely right. To back up my hon. Friend’s point, yesterday’s OECD report said that in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy and Portugal, at least 20% of A&E visits are inappropriate. NHS England’s figure is up to 30%, which is why we need the public’s help to relieve pressure and that is what I meant when I talked about an honest discussion.
The Secretary of State told us just a moment ago that there are now over 300,000 more people over the age of 80. Surely he would have known that information from census and Office for National Statistics data when his Government took over seven years ago, so why is it that we are now seeing on the front pages of our newspapers that one in four of our A&E wards is unsafe and that we have so many challenges across the country, including in my constituency?
We did know that information and that is why we thought it was totally irresponsible to want to cut the NHS budget in 2010, and not to back the NHS’s own plan in 2015. As a result, we have 11,000 more doctors. In the hon. Lady’s local hospital, 243 more people are being treated within four hours every single day.
I will make some progress and then give way. I could have put what I said on Monday another way. I could have said:
“We have to persuade those people not in medical emergencies to use other parts of the system to get the help they need”.
I did not actually say that, but I will tell the House who did. It was the then Labour Health Minister in Wales, Mark Drakeford, in January 2015. Frankly, when the NHS is under such pressure, it is totally irresponsible for the Labour party to criticise the Health Secretary in England for saying exactly the same thing that a Labour Health Minister in Wales also says.
The Secretary of State has sowed confusion in the House and in the country on this question this week, and he is doing so again today. If he is saying the same as my friend the former Health Minister in Wales—that we want to divert people who do not need to go to A&E from doing so—I am sure that everybody in this House would support him. But we suspect that he is saying that the four-hour wait target will be disapplied to some people turning up to A&E, and that that is the downgrading he is talking about. If that is the case, the Secretary of State should come clean, and he should be clear about whose job it will be to disapply the target to some people with minor ailments.
I did not say that because we are not going to do it. As we have had an intervention from a Welshman, let me tell the hon. Gentleman a rather inconvenient truth about what is happening in Wales. Last year, A&E performance in Wales was 10% lower than in England, and Wales has not hit the A&E target for eight years. We will not let that happen in England.
I noticed that the shadow Health Secretary quoted a number of people, but one that he did not quote was the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. I wonder whether that was because of what it said about Wales this week. It said:
“Emergency care in Wales is in a state of crisis…Performance is as bad, if not worse, as England, in some areas.”
There we have it: in the areas in which Labour is in control, these problems are worse.
May I reiterate the Secretary of State’s point about the four-hour target? During the Labour Government, I was working in the NHS. Significant pressure was put on us by managers to meet the four-hour target, negating clinical need. Patients were often prioritised according to meeting the target, rather than by clinical need. That was a disgrace.
That is exactly the problem we had with Mid Staffs. We had a culture in the NHS where people were hitting the target and missing the point. Although targets are important management tools in all organisations, it is important that they are followed in a sensible way that puts the interests of patients first.
I would just like to make another point about Wales while we have the privilege of having someone here who aspired to lead the Labour party, as the current leader of the Labour party is no longer in his place.
Something that Wales and England have in common is the need to ensure that, if we want alternatives to A&E, people are able to see their GPs. I have said many times that people wait too long to see their GPs. In all honesty, I think that the GP contract changes in 2004 were a disaster. The result was that 90% of GPs opted out of out-of-hours care. But we have been putting that right. Now 17 million people in England—about 30% of the population—have access to weekend and evening GP appointments. More than that, we have committed to a 14% real-terms increase in the GP budget by the end of this Parliament. That is an extra £2.4 billion and we expect that to mean an extra 5,000 doctors working in general practice.
I can see Wales from my constituency, to continue the theme. I received an email this morning from a very distressed senior NHS manager, who says:
“I truly despair that there will not be an NHS this time next year”—[Interruption.]
You need to listen on the Government Benches, and understand what your Secretary of State is doing to the health service. I will give a precis of what my constituent is talking about.
Order. The hon. Lady will resume her seat. First, when she says “you”, she is addressing the Chair. Secondly, she is making an intervention. There are 33 Members who wish to speak in this very important debate. If she can keep her intervention very brief, I will let her continue.
Apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker. I should not have used the word “you.”
My constituent has written to me saying:
“The NHS is in crisis, the government knows this, CCGs have failed, foundation trusts are failing. GPs are on their knees. So they’re”—
“handing it back to local areas and saying, ‘you fix it, and by the way there’s no money.’ It’s a whole system reorganisation”,
and there is no money.
All I would say is that I hope that people in the NHS do not listen too much to what the Labour party says about the state of the NHS and that they listen to what the Government are saying, which gives a much more accurate picture, as I will go on to explain.
I will make some progress before giving way again.
The second part of the motion talks about funding. There is no doubt at all that we will need to look after 1 million more over-65s in five years’ time and we will need to continue to increase investment in the NHS and social care system. That is happening with an extra £3.8 billion going into the NHS this year. Can I just remind Labour Members that that is £1.3 billion more than they promised when they stood for election last year? I just say this: it is not enough to talk about extra funding—you have to actually deliver it. Labour Members have to answer to their constituents as to why, for two elections in a row, they have promised less money for the NHS than the Conservatives, and why, in the one area where they are responsible for the NHS, they have cut funding.
The Secretary of State is taking exactly the right, measured tone, which was absent earlier in the debate. We recognise that many trusts are under financial pressures, but some of these situations are historic, and in my area they reflect very poor private finance initiative contracts, which were thrust on them in a Gordon Brown sleight of hand.
My hon. Friend is right. What we did not hear from the Labour party is that, in 2010, we inherited a £70 billion PFI overhang, which is making it incredibly difficult for hospitals to recruit enough staff, because they are having to pay so much money to financiers.
An example of how we are spending money practically on the ground to make sure patients get a better deal is in Lincolnshire, where, because there is a shortage of GPs, the local health authority is offering £20,000 as a golden hello to new GPs. Is that not the way to manage resources, to attract the best medical talent into our areas and to help ensure that patients get the best care?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I talked about these issues when I visited her in her constituency. The truth is that, to solve this problem, we are going to have to have a dramatic increase in the number of people working in general practice, which is why we are funding the second biggest increase in the number of GPs in the NHS’s history.
It is a great shame that the Leader of the Opposition is not here, because this is the bit that I wanted to address to him—his proposal to put extra funding into the NHS by scrapping the corporation tax cuts. That reveals, I am afraid, a fundamental misunderstanding of how we fund the NHS. Corporation taxes are being cut so that we can boost jobs, strengthen the economy and fund the NHS. The reason we have been able to protect and increase funding in the NHS in the last six years, when the Labour party was not willing to do so, is precisely that we have created 2 million jobs and given this country the fastest growing economy in the G7, and that is even more important post-Brexit. To risk that growth, which is what the Labour party’s proposal would do, would not just risk funding for the NHS, but be dangerous for the economy and mortally dangerous for the NHS.
I just want to understand exactly what the Secretary of State was saying on Monday about the four-hour A&E target. Is it conceivable that some of the people who are currently within the A&E target will, at some stage, fall outside the A&E target?
I am committed to people using A&Es falling within the four-hour target, but I also think that we need to be much more effective at diverting people who do not need to go to A&E to other places, as is happening in Wales, as is happening in Scotland and which, frankly, is the only sensible thing to do.
However, going back to the funding issue, I just want to make this point: for all the heat in this Chamber in debates on the NHS, probably the biggest difference between the two sides of the House is not on NHS policy but on the ability to deliver the strong economy that the NHS needs to give it the funding that it requires. I am afraid that the proposals in the motion today reveal that divide even more starkly.
We had the debate at the election about the need for a strong economy to pay for the NHS, and the public decided that the Conservative party won that argument. May I give my right hon. Friend another example, from yesterday, from his friend Jeremy—the Leader of the Opposition? He proposed to cap high pay, but the top 1% of taxpayers pay 27% of income tax revenues. That proposal would cut the funding available to the NHS and damage the services that hard-working members of staff produce.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members, rather than making meaningless and totally unfunded promises of more money for the NHS, contrary to their manifesto back in 2015, would do better to recognise demographic changes, such as the ageing population, and the need for the NHS to change, and support the locally developed plans for change in the national health service—the sustainability and transformation plans?
As the Government often point out, they want to hand decisions to local groups, but could the Secretary of State explain to worried patients in the south and west of Cumbria why local health services are suggesting the changes to A&E in the west and potentially the south? I know he has spent a lot of time looking at this area.
First, I would like to use this moment to congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s local trust on coming out of special measures last year and on the progress it is making. In a way, that is the answer to his point. His local trust was in special measures, and North Cumbria is still in special measures. We had some profound worries about patient care in both trusts, and we still do in the North Cumbria trust. That is why the status quo is not an option, but we understand the concerns of his constituents and many others about some of the proposals being made.
What does the Secretary of State make of the talk among professionals at the moment about the potential for a flu epidemic? What does he make of the comments by the doctor who wrote to me on Sunday saying that she is extremely concerned that staff are too busy to isolate patients who are coming in—who need oxygen—so that others do not potentially catch flu?
There is a concern at the moment about a growth in respiratory infections, and that is causing capacity constraints. We are watching what is happening on flu very carefully, but we have a record 13 million people vaccinated against flu, and I hope that that will put the NHS in a good position.
Money is of course important, but may I support the Health Secretary in not viewing these issues solely through that lens? My local trust, Sherwood Forest, which has some of the worst finances of any trust in the country—almost all due to a PFI deal signed by Gordon Brown—is actually improving. It is under pressure this winter, but the management have said it is definitely not in crisis. That is an example of a trust improving due to quality management, reform and good-quality processes.
That is absolutely the point, and the last point I want to make before concluding on funding is that we miss a trick—I think the shadow Health Secretary is in some ways more reasonable than his leader on these issues, which is probably terminal for his career—if we say that this is just about money. We forget the debate we went through on schools in this country 20 years ago, when there was, again, a debate about money, but we realised that the issue is actually also about standards and quality. That is what has happened in Sherwood Forest, and I congratulate the trust. It is important that we do not let debates about funding eclipse that very important progress that we need to make on standards.
I am going to conclude now because lots of people want to come in, I am afraid.
The shadow Health Secretary’s central claim—these are his words—was that the culpability for what is happening in the NHS “lies at the door of Downing Street”. I owe it to the country and this House to set the record straight on this Government’s record on the NHS. It is not just the fact that there are 11,000 more nurses and 11,000 more doctors; not just the fact that, on cancer, we are starting treatment for 130 more people every single day, and have record cancer survival rates; not just the fact that we have 1,400 more people getting mental health treatment every day and some of the highest dementia diagnosis rates in the world; and not just the fact that we are doing 5,000 more operations every day and that, despite those 5,000 more operations every day, MRSA rates have halved. We have an NHS with more doctors and more nurses, and despite difficult winters, with patients saying they have never been treated more safely and with more dignity and more respect.
Next year the NHS will be 70 years old. This Government’s vision is simple: we want it to offer the safest, highest quality care anywhere in the world. When we have difficult winters and an ageing population, of course that makes things more challenging, but it also makes us more determined. It means that we are backing the NHS’s plan; it means more GPs and better mental health provision; and it means an NHS turning heads in the 21st century just as it did when it was founded in the 20th century.
Here we are again debating the NHS. [Interruption.] I am all on my own because obviously this is predominantly a crisis in NHS England, not a crisis in NHS Scotland, as I will discuss as we go on.
The problem is that we are talking about patients who are suffering—who may suffer from more infections, as we have heard. We are talking about staff who are in tears and who are desperate, and who feel that they cannot deliver the care they would expect to deliver. This is not just a matter of isolated stories of “Joe from Wiltshire” and “Mike from Leeds”: it is happening on a major scale. We hear from NHS Improvement that only one trust out of 152 met the four-hour target in December, and only nine made it to over 90%. Fifty out of 152 trusts declared a black or red situation over December, and there were 158 diversions of ambulances over that time. This is not just about normal winter pressures. It is not what the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who is an A&E nurse, and people like me and other medics in the Chamber have seen in our careers—it is a really bad winter. Yet we have not had bitter weather and we have not had a flu epidemic.
The most recent four-hour data were published in October, when NHS England managed to achieve the four-hour target for 83.7% of the time. That is 5% down on the same time in the previous year, and it compares with 93.9% in Scotland. Scotland managed 93.5% in Christmas week. We have our challenges in Scotland, but the crisis is not the same as what is being discussed here.
I would be delighted to agree with that, but NHS England did not make it over 90% at any point in 2016, so perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might want to check the NHS England figures before having a punt at me.
NHS England is performing 8% to 10% lower than NHS Scotland, which has been the top performing of the nations for the past 19 months. We have not done that by magic. We face exactly the same ageing population, exactly the same increased demand and complexity, and exactly the same—indeed, often worse—shortages of doctors as NHS England does, because of our rurality. We are not using a different measure—we use exactly the same measure—but the data show that there is a significant difference, and it is being maintained.
The Secretary of State is right: winter is always challenging. Summer is often busier for attendances at A&E, because the kids are on the trampolines and people go out and do silly things, but hospitals are under pressure in winter because of the nature of admissions—the people who go to A&E are sicker, older and more complicated. However, we have not seen any summer respite in NHS England. The worst performance in the summer was 80.8%; the best was 86.4%. NHS England is under pressure in the summer, and when winter is added on top of that, it is no wonder that we are talking about the situations that doctors, nurses, patients and relatives are describing to us.
My first health debate after my maiden speech in this House was an Opposition day debate on the four-hour target. At the time, I commented, and still maintain, that this target is not a stick for each party to hit each other over the head with, but it is a thermometer to take the temperature of the acute service, and it does that really well, because it measures not just people coming in through the front door but how they are moving through the hospital and out the other end. At the moment, the system is completely overheated. The comments about this not being anything unusual but just a normal winter, and everyone whingeing, show that the Government are not recognising the problem. The first step to dealing with any problem is to recognise it, because then we can look at how we want to tackle it.
I remind the hon. Lady of the point the Prime Minister made in Prime Minister’s questions, which is that on the Tuesday after Christmas, A&E received the highest number of visitors it has ever received in its history. Does that not show the challenges facing the NHS both nationally and locally? These are extraordinary figures, and the Secretary of State is very much doing his best to help the NHS, with the professionals, to deal with them.
I totally accept that the NHS has been under inordinate pressure with, absolutely, the busiest day in its history, but given an ageing population that has been discussed for years, we should have been able to see this coming.
If, in the next couple of months, we get a massive flu epidemic, we are going to see things keel over. We have already had debates in this Chamber about STPs taking more beds away. I totally agree with the Secretary of State that part of the issue is that patients could be seen somewhere else. However, it is not a matter of changing the four-hour target and saying to someone who turns up, “You’re not going to count;” it is simply a matter of providing better alternatives. If we provide better alternatives, people will go to them. The House has discussed community pharmacy use, and it has been recognised that the minor ailments services we have in Scotland can deal with 5% to 10% of those patients. We have co-located out-of-hours GP units beside our A&Es, so someone is very easily sent along the corridor or into the next-door building if they need a GP and not A&E. We do need to educate the public, but the public will use an alternative service if it is there. If it is not, they know that if they turn up at A&E and just keep sitting there, eventually someone will see them, and we should not blame them for that.
The hon. Lady is right to say that we have an ageing population but that is predictable. Does she think it is also significant that in 2008 the UK was spending about the same as all the major EU nations, whereas the OECD now says that we are spending considerably less than most of the other major nations? Is that not actually causing this problem?
Money is not the only problem. I accept that part of it is about how things are done. The Secretary of State talks about variations and many hospitals performing well, but, as I said, only one trust is meeting the target and only nine are at over 90%, so it is not that the majority are doing well and a few are failing.
The ability to look at how we deliver the NHS is crucial, but change costs money. We must therefore invest in our alternatives so that our community services and primary care services can step up and step down to take the pressure off. One of the concerns about the STPs is that because people do not have enough money, a lot of them start by thinking that they will shut an A&E, shut a couple of wards, or shut community beds—even though those are what we need more of—to fund change in primary and social care. Then the system will fall over. We need to have double running and develop our alternatives and then we will gradually be able to send the patients there.
I always enjoy listening to the hon. Lady’s well-informed remarks. I agree that most people do not want to go to A&E if they can avoid it. Does she agree that part of the problem is that when people phone general practices, they tend not to be offered an appointment that they regard as being within a reasonable timeframe, or they cannot get to see the doctor with whom they are closely associated, which particularly applies to people with chronic and long-term conditions? As today’s National Audit Office report makes clear, we need to address that as a matter of urgency. Paradoxically, seven-day-a-week general practice may militate against being able to provide people with such continuity of care during core hours.
Many doctors in general practice would accept the argument for having access to a GP on Saturday morning, particularly for people who are otherwise at work. However, someone who cannot see their favourite doctor is very unlikely to go to A&E and wait eight hours to see a doctor they have never seen before in their life. This is not about that; this is about the fact that people feel they cannot find an alternative. If it takes three or four weeks to get any appointment with their GP and they do not yet have a community pharmacy offering such a service, they will eventually end up at A&E. It is therefore the service of last resort for people who go there and just stay there. We have to develop alternatives first, but as the hon. Gentleman says, no one in their right mind would choose to go and wait four hours in A&E if they could be seen in half an hour in a community pharmacy.
The hon. Lady is being very generous in giving way. I have to disagree with her, because winter pressures and the pressures we are seeing at the moment tend to involve not people with short-term, self-limiting conditions, but the chronically sick. Those people in particular, and with good reason, want to have a relationship with a particular practitioner who understands their needs and their family context. That is surely the essence of general practice.
I totally agree, but in fact the chance that their doctor will be on duty would actually be lower on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon. One of the things we have done in Scotland with SPARRA—Scottish patients at risk of readmission and admission—data is to identify that 40% of admissions involve 5% of the patients. Those patients are all automatically flagged and will get a double appointment no matter what they ring up about, because it will not just be a case of a chest infection or a urine infection, but of having to look at all their other comorbidities.
That is the challenge we face; it is not a catastrophe of people living longer. All of us in the House with a medical background will remember that that was definitely the point of why we went into medicine, and it is the point of the NHS. However, we are not ageing very well. From about 40 or 50 onwards, people start to accumulate conditions that they may not have survived in the past, so that by the time they are 70 they have four or five comorbidities that make it a challenge to treat even something quite simple. My colleagues and friends who are still working on the frontline say that it is a question not just of numbers, but of complexity. Someone may come in with what sounds like an easy issue, but given their diabetes, renal failure and previous heart attack, it is in fact a complex issue.
That is part of the problem we face, and we need to look forward to prepare for it. We need to think about designing STPs around older people, not around young people who can come in and have an operation as a day case and then go away, because that is not what we are facing. Older people need longer in hospital, even medically, before they reach the point of being able to go home. It takes them a couple of days longer to be strong enough to do so. They probably live alone and do not have family near them, so they will need a degree of convalescent support and they may need social care. That is really where the nub of the problem lies. Social care funding has gone down, and therefore more people are stuck in hospital or more people end up in hospital who did not actually need to be there in the first place.
On the frailties of older people, does the hon. Lady think that just as Scotland led the way with St Ninian’s primary school in Stirling introducing the daily mile, there is something we could learn from countries, such an Andorra, that have a real focus on exercise for older people, so that they are a lot less frail in their 70s and 80s?
The whole prevention and public health message is crucial, and that is one of our other challenges. I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for no longer talking about a figure of £10 billion, because the increase in the Department of Health’s budget is actually £4.5 billion. Part of that relates to the reduction in public health funding, just at a time when we need to move it on to a totally different scale. Whether that is children or, indeed, adults doing the daily mile—perhaps we should run up to Trafalgar Square and back every lunchtime, which I am sure would do us all a power of good—we need to invest in such preventive measures. One of my points is that when we end up desperate—patching up how the NHS runs, or dealing with illnesses we did not bother to prevent—we always end up spending more money.
The hon. Lady knows how much I respect her and what she says. As the chairman of the all-party group on running, I endorse the daily mile and encourage all adults to do it. Park runs, which happen across the nation, are a good example. There is huge expertise in Scotland, so can NHS England learn from Scotland? What is best practice, and will she give us some examples of it in hospitals and hospital trusts in Scotland that we can take away and learn from?
The whole issue comes down to sustainability, which is obviously the idea behind the sustainability and transformation plans. As those who have heard me speak about STPs will know, I support the idea in principle. The idea is to go back to place-based planning on an integrated basis for a community. The difference in Scotland is that we have focused on integration. We got rid of hospital trusts in 2004, and we got rid of primary care trusts in the late 2000s—in 2009 or 2010. Since April 2014, we have set up integration joint boards, where a bag of money from the NHS and a bag of money from the local authority are put on the table and a group sit around it and work out the best way to deal with the interface and to support social care. Anyone in the Chamber or elsewhere with family members who have been stuck in hospital will know that people get into a bickering situation: Mrs Bloggs is in a bed so the local authority is not interested, because she is safe there, and the local authority is instead busy with Mrs Smith, who has fallen off a ladder trying to put up her curtains and who is not considered safe because she is leaving the gas on. Such boards get rid of all that perverse obstruction.
The hon. Lady is making an important point, and I welcome the tone that she, unlike the shadow Secretary of State, has brought to this debate. She makes the point that the integration of care—social and health—is important, but does she agree that, with further devolution to the sub-regions and major cities in England, there is a huge opportunity to move forward that agenda south of the border?
The whole idea of STPs is to go back to areas. We simply have geographical health boards—the only layer we have—so we are not wasting huge amounts of money on having layers and layers, which could be integrated. For an STP to work it must make sense geographically, which might be a county or something bigger or smaller. I think that they should be put on a statutory footing. We have 211 CCGs. There will be an average of six CCGs for every STP, so that is a waste of layers, and it will be very difficult to integrate.
One of the biggest differences is that, in 2004, we got rid of the purchaser-provider split. In the past 25 years, there has been no evidence of any clinical benefit from the purchaser-provider split, the internal market or, as it now is, the external market. It is estimated that the costs of running that market are between £5 billion and £10 billion a year. That money does not actually go to healthcare, but on bidding, tendering, administration or profits. We cannot have an overnight change, but if we simply made a principled decision to work our way back to having the NHS as the main provider of public health treatment and to integrate care through the STPs, we could reach a point of sustainability.
As I said earlier, we must protect things such as community hospitals and community services and, indeed, invest in them. Our health board has rebuilt three cottage hospitals as modern hospitals, because that is where we should put an older person who is on their own and has a chest infection, who just needs a few days of antibiotics, TLC and decent feeding. We do not want them in big acute hospitals; we want them to be close to home. The danger is that under the STPs people will see community hospitals as easy to get rid of, but that is an efficiency saving only if it gets rid of inefficiency. If we slash and burn, we will end up spending more money in the end.
Much of what the hon. Lady says is music to my ears as somebody who is campaigning to save their local general hospital. May we have the benefit of her views on the role of consultation with patients and the wider community when sustainability and transformation plans are being considered?
Public consultation is important, and not just in the way it has often been done in the past—“We’ve made a decision, it’s a fait accompli, and we’re coming and telling you about it.” Unfortunately, that is very much what we have heard about the STP process, partly because it has been so short and partly, I am afraid, because it is about budget-centred care, not patient-centred care. Areas have been given a number and told, “If you’re not reaching this number, don’t bother submitting your plan,” and they are working back from that. That will not achieve an efficient, integrated service, so the public must be involved.
Frontline clinicians must also be involved. They work in a service and know exactly what the bottlenecks are and exactly what horseshoe nail is missing and holding a service back. If we have clinician-led redesign, such as I was involved in for breast cancer in my health board 17 years ago, we can track a patient’s path. We can quickly imagine ourselves as a patient, see the bottlenecks and focus investment on them.
I read an article yesterday stating that three hospitals in Manchester have spent £6 million on management consultants to say, “Shut a ward, sack hundreds of people and jack up the parking charges.” I am sorry, but that was not good value for £2 million each.
I thank the hon. Lady for, as ever, eloquently expressing issues that face us all, no matter where we come from and who we are. Does she agree that having good healthcare data for clinicians enables patients to be put through the system seamlessly? Many individuals do not realise that their data do not go from their GP into acute care and then back into social care. If we could improve that—I make a plug for my private Member’s Bill on Friday—it would help patients.
I would not say that we are super IT wizards in Scotland, but we did not get involved in care.data, which unfortunately is a black shadow over the whole issue of NHS data in England, and now all our referrals are electronic, so nothing goes in the post. All our letters back are also electronic—I dock my dictation machine during a clinic, and when I finish I sit and check it, and the letters go off. After a Friday morning bad news clinic, the letters are on their way by 2 o’clock. A GP can email my colleagues and say, “I don’t know whether you need to see this person.” I have heard clinicians here in England say, “No, we can’t email about a patient.” Unfortunately, the wrong move that was made on care.data has ended up holding people back.
Our GPs in Scotland use a care summary. If they have a palliative care patient who has been accepted as being in terminal care, that patient’s care summary will be put on the out-of-hours system. If there is a call about the person, the doctor who goes to see them knows that they will not be throwing them in an ambulance but will be keeping them comfortable. The discussion has already been had, and the aim is for them to be at home. England has to gain the ability not just to analyse data at a later point but to share information as a first step.
In finishing off my speech—[Interruption.] I am sorry if I was taking too long for an hon. Lady at the back of the Opposition Benches. Integration is the key, and it is possible to get it through the STPs—but only if they are designed around patients, safety and services, rather than just starting with the bottom line and working backwards.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, it will be obvious to colleagues that a great many Members wish to speak this afternoon and that although the debate has advanced a long way in time, it has not advanced very far in the number of Members called. We therefore now have to have a time limit of 10 minutes. [Interruption.] I can see that there is some surprise about that; it is 10 minutes for the moment, but anyone who can do any arithmetic will be aware that it will have to be reduced later, so I suggest that Members start working on their speeches now.
I will try to be mindful of those comments, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I follow the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), my colleague on the Health Committee. As always, she made thoughtful and thought-provoking comments, and I would like to endorse her points and expand on some of them.
First, I thank NHS and care staff. We have heard that they are facing unprecedented demand over the winter, but it is not just winter pressures that they face now—the pressures extend into the summer. As we have heard, that is not just about numbers but about the complexity of conditions and the frailty of those presenting in our accident and emergency departments. The Health Committee heard in its recent inquiry that the trusts that are most successful in getting close to the four-hour target are those that see it as an entire-system issue, and in which both health and care staff contribute to the effort, not as a tick-box exercise but because they recognise that it is fundamentally about patient safety and the quality of patients’ experiences. That is why the four-hour target matters, and the Secretary of State is right to endorse it.
The Secretary of State is also right that we sometimes need to be more nuanced about our targets and that he needs to be open to listening to what clinicians are telling him about how we can improve the way in which targets are applied. It would be a great shame if we in this House prevented those sensible discussions from taking place because of political furore. I urge him to continue to have them and to take advice and listen to clinicians about how we can improve the use of targets, but he is absolutely right in being clear that he will keep the four-hour target.
We must talk about this as a whole-system issue. Accident and emergency is a barometer of wider system pressures, as has been pointed out, and I want to focus my remarks on the integration of health and social care.
I agree with colleagues throughout the House who have called for a convention on reviewing funding as a whole-system issue. We have heard that next year is the 70th birthday of the NHS, and what could be a better present than politicians changing the debate and the way in which we talk about the funding of health and social care, so that we do so in a collaborative manner that works towards the right solution for our patients? The consequences of our not doing that would be profound for our constituents, who would not thank us for not being prepared to put aside party differences and work towards the right solution.
Ultimately, this issue is about a demographic change that we are simply not preparing for adequately. In the case of the pension age, we recognised that there had to be a different debate given the change in longevity. Over the decade to 2015, we saw a 31% increase in the number of people living to 85 and older. Of course, that is a cause for celebration, but there has not been a matching increase in disease-free life expectancy.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s focus on tackling inequality, but unfortunately we are not making sufficient progress on that, either. In her very first speech in the job, she talked about tackling the “burning injustice” of health inequality. We in this House have a role in doing that together in a consensual manner.
I very much agree with the hon. Lady. Does she share my welcome for the Prime Minister’s response today in which she stated that she was prepared to meet us and other Members of Parliament from across the House and my hope that it might start a more constructive approach?
Absolutely. It was extraordinarily encouraging to hear the Prime Minister say that she was prepared to consider that and to meet Members from across the House. I urge colleagues who feel that this is a better way forward to sign up to it, speak to their party Whips and make it clear that it has widespread support.
I wonder, on this vital issue, whether the hon. Lady wants to say something about what her own party did on the two previous times we tried to get important cross-party working on health and social care: it made it an election issue, producing posters about a “death tax”; and on the second occasion the Secretary of State just walked away from the talks.
I am afraid that that intervention is exactly not the kind of debate we want to be having. Let us look to the future. We are in a different part of the electoral cycle. I accept the hon. Lady’s comments—I was still an NHS clinician when that happened and, like many of those working in health or social care, I looked at the yah-boo debate in this place and thought that surely there had to be a better way—but I ask her to put them aside and to look to the future rather than backwards, otherwise we will not get anywhere. I think our constituents want us, as politicians, to recognise the scale of the challenge and to get to grips with it.
That is exactly what I am hoping. We must end the silos of health and social care. We should stop thinking about money as a social care pound or a health pound, and instead think about a patient pound and a taxpayer pound, and how we get the very best from that.
That brings me on to a point I would like to raise directly with the Secretary of State. There is an example of where this has happened: in my constituency, Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust has formed an ICO—an integrated care organisation. Across health and care, passionate people recognised the benefits and sweated blood to get the organisation off the ground. Torbay’s integration is talked about not just nationally but internationally as a recognised way of doing this better. I regret to say, however, that because of the scale of the financial pressure on the ICO, we are now hearing that next year the NHS will be pulling out of the risk-sharing agreement.
That is totally unacceptable. I hope the Secretary of State will meet me to discuss the pressures facing the ICO, which has achieved exactly what we are talking about in this debate. It is able to pool finances better through risk sharing and to work together to get people out of hospital who do not need to be there more rapidly than happens in other areas. It can put people from social care into hospitals to see how we can speed up that process. Unfortunately, if that risk-share falls apart, one of the key pillars of how we want to improve the flow through hospitals and out the other end will break down. Part of the reason, as I understand it, is that unless the control totals are met the funding it hopes to use to improve the facilities in the A&E department will be at risk. The challenge for Torbay is not how it works together to get people out of hospital; it is the facilities at the front door, and it could do so much to improve the facilities. We have the odd paradox whereby we could end up improving A&E infrastructure but worsening the ability of the system to respond at the point where we are trying to get people cared for in the community.
A certain degree of financial challenge can have the effect of bringing health and social care organisations to work more closely together because they know it makes sense, but when unrealistic targets are set it can go the other way. It can start to mean that people have to retreat to protect their budget silos. I hope that the Secretary of State will look closely at what is happening and meet me to discuss whether we cannot just get this back on track for next year. I am confident that the local authority and the NHS staff across the CCG and the provider trust will continue to work together—they have an extraordinary tradition of doing so—but there are threats, which I hope can be addressed. This is about the entire flow from the front door right the way through to getting people cared for back at home.
More widely, we now have more than 1 million people in communities who are unable to receive the care they need. Mears, the prime provider in my area, is in special measures. These are financial issues. Yes, there is much that the NHS can do that is not about money—we know there is a lot of variation that cannot be explained by financial challenge and demographic changes alone—but finance and the workforce inevitably are the key challenges we have to face, and we have to work together across all political parties to resolve them.
In closing, I would like to raise with the Secretary of State the front page of today’s Times, which is extraordinarily disappointing. This is the second time a major national newspaper has reported briefing against the chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens. I invite the Secretary of State or the Minister closing the debate unequivocally to support the chief executive of the NHS. When the chief executive appears before the Health Committee and I, as the Chair of the Committee, ask him to respond to questions, I expect him to be truthful and transparent in his answers. He should be commended for doing so and not find himself the subject of negative briefings. I therefore invite the Minister unequivocally to support him and ask for this to stop.
The debate so far has shown the huge level of concern from the public and NHS staff about the crisis in the NHS and social care. The hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) reflected some of the views of the Select Committee, but I ask all Government Members to take those concerns seriously and not to dismiss them. All hon. Members must surely be receiving representations from staff and patients about what is happening locally.
I want to pay tribute to all the health and social care staff in Doncaster, in particular those at Doncaster royal infirmary whose work I have seen at first hand. I know how dedicated and committed they are to caring for patients in these most difficult of circumstances. At the end of December, they had managed to achieve 90% against the 95% target and had good ambulance handover times, as well as good support from the council and community partners, but they are facing real pressures and they are fearful about the pressures still to come, especially if, as predicted, there is a cold spell. That is why the mixed messages from the Secretary of State have been extremely damaging.
I was a Health Minister for four years and had responsibility for emergency care. I know how important it is to work with NHS staff to help to implement targets, and not to give the impression that the NHS is somehow giving up on those targets. The lead from the top is incredibly important. There has always been controversy about targets, but as a Health Minister I visited many, many A&E departments. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the A&E target led to improved care for patients and that it reduced waiting times dramatically. The evidence is clear: it shows that that is what happened. One striking thing about those visits was seeing how consultants, nurses, ambulance teams and all members of the healthcare team worked together. For example, they would work out protocols so that emergency nurse practitioners could take over some of the work previously done by consultants, to ease the burden and share the work among the team. Triaging—seeing who needed urgent treatment by a consultant and who could be seen by a nurse practitioner—became the norm.
I would ask staff, “Is the target getting in the way, or is it helping?”, and invariably the answer would come back, “It helps us to work together more effectively.” I vividly remember a nurse practitioner saying, “Please don’t abandon the target, because it is making the consultants sit down with us and look at the whole team.” For patients, the difference was crucial, as it was for practitioners’ working lives, because they were not having to see patients who had been sitting around for hours and were feeling thoroughly depressed and demoralised. That made a difference to the healthcare team as well, because it improved their working life as well as patient care.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is not so much meeting the target that is important as getting patients seen expeditiously and well? There is not an A&E department in this country that does not want to improve its position in the league table of response times. The difference that now applies, and which perhaps did not apply quite so much when she was a Minister, is that the level of informatics and comparison is much improved. I suggest to her, ever so gently, that while the four-hour target was important when she was a Minister, its importance has degraded over time, because everybody is trying to see patients more quickly.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The four-hour target led to much better diagnoses and much improved provision of the type of treatment that people needed, as well as better interaction with communities. And I want to come on to that point because the Secretary of State has been trying—perhaps the hon. Gentleman is guilty of this as well—to separate the target for A&E departments from what happens outside, whereas I see the importance of putting the two together. Providing alternative treatment, which is perhaps part of what the hon. Gentleman was getting at, means having proper support in the community. It was bringing those two things together that made it possible to achieve the target, so it was a driver.
In my experience of trying to meet the four-hour target, it is often—or was in the past—prioritised over everything else, including patient care and clinical need. It was sometimes abused, with huge pressure put on staff to meet the target, and as a result patient care suffered. I saw that myself.
It is always important to look at the feedback from clinicians, and I did that as a Health Minister. It started during my time as a Minister, and I remember that we had constantly to consider whether there was a clinical reason for reducing the 95% target. It became clear that some patients needed longer to be assessed owing to their particular condition. In such cases, I could see why the target might need to be reduced, but that was based on clinical need. By contrast, the impression given last week was, “My goodness! We’re going to have to cope with some winter pressures. Let’s reduce the target in order to meet it,” rather than there being an assessment of clinical need. That sent completely the wrong message to the NHS. I think it was the wrong thing to do.
I want briefly to set out some areas in which we can bring the community input together with what is happening in emergency departments to reduce some of the pressures. The first point was that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), who spoke from the Front Bench. Good social care is vital to ensuring that people do not end up in A&E. I have previously raised problems with the Government’s current proposition to, in a sense, move responsibility for raising money to local councils. That is particularly unfair in areas such as mine, which simply cannot raise the same amount of money through a council precept as better-off areas can. It simply does not work. We need it probably more than any other area, but we will be less able to raise the money.
On shortages, I have been talking to senior NHS staff in Doncaster, and there are real problems with emergency care staffing. They tell me that although more doctors are being trained—I accept that—it will take years for them to come through. The single most effective step we can take to ease pressure on A&E departments is immediately to increase funding for social care, because it would keep people out of A&E departments, and it could be done straightaway. The personnel are out there; the Government just need to increase the funding, as my hon. Friend said from the Front Bench.
We also have to look seriously at the problem of GP shortages. As others have said, if patients are waiting three weeks to get an appointment with a GP, they are bound to end up in A&E. This needs to be addressed very quickly, with proper forward looks at exactly where the gaps are in GP services. I have said before that PCTs—now clinical commissioning groups—or NHS England should be able to take over practices and employ salaried GPs. That would make a huge difference.
Furthermore, on community pharmacies, if people are confident that going to a pharmacy will save them a visit to A&E, again that will relieve pressure on the system. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will assure us that he is looking seriously at the community pharmacy forward view, which sets out how pharmacies can be integrated into the NHS and social care.
Briefly on mental health, the Prime Minister answered a question today about mental health and the crises that people can get into, which mean that they end up in A&E. She talked, in particular, about young people. I urge the Minister to consider the role that educational psychologists can play in children’s mental health and in keeping them out of A&E.
It was my experience as a Health Minister that we needed people on the ground locally to help organisations across the spectrum—local government through to social care, pharmacies, GPs and ambulances—to work with A&E departments, yet the £2 billion reorganisation that removed PCTs and strategic health authorities has made it much more difficult to drive through the necessary changes. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will look very seriously at what has happened, because local knowledge can be vital.
On the basis of the Secretary of State’s contributions, it seemed that he was trying to use every excuse not to face up to the reality of what is happening. I think that sends a terrible message to NHS staff. I hope that, as a result of today’s debate, the concerns raised will be taken on board by Ministers and the Secretary of State and that they will come back to us with a proper plan that recognises the problems and offers real solutions.
Order. The House was right to assume that 10 minutes per person is unsustainable. After the next speaker, I shall reduce the time limit to seven minutes. The House will be glad to know, however, that the time limit remains 10 minutes for Sir Simon Burns.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I certainly welcome today’s debate and the opportunity to discuss an issue that is extremely important to all hon. Members in all parts of the House. During recent weeks, there has been a significant problem because of the increasing number of people needing services at A&E and from local health services. I would like to pay tribute to the magnificent work, often in very difficult circumstances, that doctors, nurses, consultants, ancillary staff and people in general practice carry out on a day-to-day basis—not simply during a winter crisis period, but throughout the year—looking after people to the best of their abilities.
My own hospital, Broomfield hospital in Chelmsford, is doing a fantastic job, in difficult circumstances, to provide the best possible care in good times and in more difficult times. As a constituency MP, I am certainly aware that there have been some problems for some of my constituents over the last week or so, because of the demand and the pressure.
We have to look at what we can do to move forward in a positive—not a partisan, politicised—way to make sure that our constituents get the best treatments possible. There is no point in just shouting. As the Chair of the Health Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), said, it is no good engaging in yah-boo politics. We have to be mature and come up with sensible suggestions.
Funding is, of course, a key issue. I am extremely proud of this Government’s record and commitment to funding the NHS over the last seven years and their commitments for the next three to four years. We made sure when we came into office, at a time of austerity when Departments’ budgets were cut, that the Health Department’s budget was one of the few to be protected, so that we got a real-terms increase in funding every year we were in power—albeit, I accept, a modest real-terms increase. It nevertheless showed our commitment and our intent to invest in improving the national health service.
I am also proud of the fact that I and all my right hon. and hon. Friends fought the last general election on a commitment that over the five-year period of this Parliament, we were going to increase NHS funding substantially—to what has turned out to be to the tune of £10 billion. That is more, I say in a very gentle way, than was on offer to the country from certain other parties. I am pleased, too, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister of State have been planning for any potential strains of demand during this winter period with the provision of £400 million to local health economies and other measures such as the vaccination programme, a preventive health measure that has got a record number of 13 million people vaccinated to try to offset some of the potential health problems that can flow during a winter period. That is using foresight and planning to try to minimise problems, while at the same time providing funding to back up their actions. That is what a responsible Department of Health should do and has done.
Now, people can demand as much money as they like for the health service, but my argument is this. Yes, the health service does need extra money—year in, year out—but it should not just be thrown at an issue. A far bigger part of the equation is building on the performance, standards and quality of care that the health service will provide to our constituents.
I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying about the increased resources, but does he not agree with me that we now need more resources for integrated health and social care and that this is the time to stop using the NHS as a political football and engage in a cross-party review?
I certainly agree that, under the leadership of the Department of Health, we should work with anyone and everyone to come up with a solution.
I was the Social Care Minister in the late 1990s, before we left office. Integrating health and social care was then at a very early, formative stage, and the ambitions were immense and tremendous. I am afraid that the reality has not matched the ambitious nature of what was being said in the 1990s, which is why I was particularly interested by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes. Yes, we must think about that, but what we must also think about—let me push the funding element to one side for the moment—is building on the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, particularly his investment in patient safety, the raising of standards, dignity for patients in our hospitals and throughout the health system, and the cutting out of waste and inefficiencies.
In 2010, when I was at the Department of Health for the second time, we had the Nicholson challenge, which was to save £20 billion over three or four years by cutting out waste and sharing best practice to improve the quality of care. I know from a debate that we had just before Christmas that the NHS achieved £19.4 billion of those savings. The beauty of that was not just that it created greater effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of healthcare and the sharing of best practice, but that the Treasury did not receive £19.4 billion with which it could do as it wished. The £19.4 billion was reinvested in patient care.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. There was a wage freeze for those who were earning more than £20,000 a year, but that was in keeping with the policy throughout the public sector, which included Ministers and other Members of Parliament.
The important point is that it was possible to achieve that saving by a variety of means. One of them was a pay freeze, but others were improving the delivery of service, cutting out inefficiencies and ineffective ways of operating and getting rid of nearly 20,000 surplus managers, so that the NHS could concentrate on enabling clinicians, nurses, ancillary workers and everyone else to work on patient care. That is the right way forward, and we cannot give up on it. We must continue to think about where we can make savings.
I am afraid not, because I am about to finish.
Much has been said about the STP programme. We have an STP in Mid and South Essex, and I strongly support it, because it is completely focused on improving and enhancing the quality of accident and emergency care. What annoys me is that people wish to politicise it for grubby political reasons. [Interruption.] Funnily enough, I am not talking about Opposition Members.
Our STP involves three hospitals with three A&E departments. Not one of those departments is to be closed under the proposals, yet as soon as they were published, and on the assumption—correct, I suspect—that most people had not read them, word went out that my local A&E department was to be closed down by the Department of Health because of this nasty Government’s proposals to save money. The exact opposite was the case. If one read the document, one could see that all three A&Es are remaining open.
What will happen is building on what happens now. If someone has a heart attack, they are immediately taken to Basildon hospital, because that is the specialist for cardiothoracic treatment. If someone needs treatment for burns or plastic surgery, they come to Broomfield hospital in Chelmsford, because it has one of the finest units in the whole of Europe. If someone has a head injury, they will go down to Romford in the east of London, because that is the specialist area for people with head injuries. If I had any of those conditions, I would want—and I would want for my constituents—the best possible treatment from the best experts available. That is what is happening and that is going to be built on, enhanced and improved. That is an improvement. That is not a cut; that is not taking away services from local communities. Those people who have an agenda and want to play politics will tell people anything in the hope that they believe it, or to frighten them by trying to discredit the work of the NHS.
I am pleased we have had the opportunity to discuss this matter. It is very tricky, and there is no simple answer—what is happening is not unique; we frequently have winter crises, particularly because of the ageing population and the increasing demands on health services in recent years—but we must not lose sight of the fact that we have an NHS and a Government who are determined to improve further and enhance the quality of care and the safety and standards of care for all our constituents, aided and abetted by a first-class workforce who are often working under very difficult circumstances.
It is important to talk more widely about the NHS—about its importance and its funding and perhaps about its organisation, too—but the purpose of today’s debate is to highlight the current crisis in many parts of our national health service and to ask the Government to do something about it.
Our national health service is undoubtedly highly valued, has dedicated staff and provides excellent services. In many parts of the country it is under pressure, however, and today’s debate calls for specific actions to address that crisis. It calls for more funding for social care now, and for an improved settlement for both the NHS and social care in the next Budget. So in our general discussion about how things might be reorganised and changed in the future it is important not to lose focus on the current problems, and those are the reasons for today’s debate.
There has been a lot of discussion about what is happening in hospitals—that will inevitably be the case, as in many areas there is a crisis in A&E and great pressure on hospital services—but reference has also been made to services provided by our NHS outside hospitals, in the community. It is important that we focus on those as well, not just because they are important in their own right, but because if they are working effectively they can prevent hospital admissions from occurring and improve people’s health. Those services include community health services, which involve GP practices—the bedrock of our NHS—and the nurses, physios and pharmacists. They also include social care, where the NHS has some responsibility, although local authorities, which are under ever-increasing pressure, are primarily responsible.
I am extremely concerned about the cuts that the Government have imposed on community pharmacists. Pharmacists are essential to our NHS. They are part of the NHS, but in the main are privately run. They offer advice as well as specific services, and where pharmacists can give proper advice and services they can often prevent people from having to go to their GP, let alone to hospital. It is a matter of great concern that the Government’s plan for cuts to community pharmacies will put pharmacies in areas such as mine in Liverpool at risk. I also deplore the reduction in independent pharmacies, which provide an excellent service. I ask the Government to think again about their cuts to community pharmacies, which form a vital part of our health service. Once they are closed, it will be far too late. The Government should act now. They should not go ahead with those cuts, which will have a dramatic effect in Liverpool and elsewhere in the country.
I also ask hon. Members to think a little more about what is happening in social care. In Liverpool, we are facing a major crisis in social care, as local authority funding has been cut severely and is to be cut again. Liverpool City Council’s budget has already been cut by 58%, and £90 million of further savings have been demanded over the next three years—half of that to be achieved in the next year. One result of that has been a severe reduction in social care provision: 40,000 social care packages have been reduced to 9,000, and there are many more cuts in the pipeline.
Providing social care is essential not just to enable people to leave hospital when they are healthy enough to do so—although that is important—but to enable them to live a constructive life. Many people are now fearful of possible cuts to their social care packages. They believe that they will be unable to lead a reasonable life in their own home if their essential services are cut. I ask the Government to think again about what they are doing. They tell us that the better care fund is an answer, but that is simply not the case. In Liverpool, £39 million has been proposed for the social care fund for the coming years, but that will simply scratch the surface of the problem. In poor areas such as Liverpool where it is difficult to raise money, a 1% increase in the council tax fund would raise only £1.4 million. Neither of those measures, either singly or put together, will address the looming and very real crisis in social care. I urge the Government to look again at this, rather than offering platitudes about other funding being available. That funding is not there, and there are no plans for it to be there. A new approach needs to be taken to this urgently; something needs to be done.
The subject of mental health has been raised by a number of Members. I should like to mention two instances from my constituency. The first involves someone who can live a reasonable life at home with some assistance, but that assistance has now been withdrawn. Among other things, it involved helping the person to open letters to deal with normal queries, but that has now gone and she is facing great problems.
The second example involves Mr B, who faces very serious mental health conditions. Indeed, he has an incapacitating condition, which means that he cannot work. He was promised specialist help at the Tuke Centre in York, but that offer was withdrawn because it was made in error. That is unforgivable. I have followed this through, and Mr B was promised local treatment, although it was unclear whether that treatment would be appropriate. However, that treatment is not now being offered in the way that was previously suggested. I have followed that up, but 14 months on from the time when Mr B was first offered help for his incapacitating and extremely serious mental health condition, nothing has happened. That is simply not good enough, and I shall be pursuing the matter further.
Those are just two illustrations of how the cruel cuts in mental health services are affecting individuals. I agree that we should perhaps look more generally at funding for our national health service, but the crisis in local services is happening today. The Government are responsible now, and they must act.
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). I am sorry that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) is no longer in her place. I particularly enjoyed her remarks, in which she set out a number of constructive policy suggestions, drawing on experience in Scotland, and suggested that we could reflect on them and improve the situation here.
It was disappointing to hear not a single policy suggestion in the shadow Secretary of State’s 33-minute contribution. He might reflect on that because the debate will not move forward otherwise.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire drew upon her clinical experience, but I also enjoyed the contribution of the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton) who, after a period of enforced silence as Opposition Chief Whip, drew upon her ministerial experience, demonstrating the value of ex-Ministers contributing from the Back Benches and bringing something to the debate.
I have reflected on the Labour motion before us today, which specifically talks about the four-hour target and funding issues, which I will touch on in my inevitably brief speech. As I said in an earlier intervention, I was in the House on Monday when the Secretary of State was clear in what he said and I do not understand why Labour Members fail to see that. He did not in any way water down the target. The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) challenged him and the Secretary of State specifically “recommitted the Government” to the target. He was actually generous in paying tribute to the Labour Government for having introduced it, saying that it was
“one of the best things about the NHS”—[Official Report, 9 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 46.]—
and in no way resiled from it.
Indeed, I think the shadow Secretary of State said in his remarks that the Secretary of State had somehow talked about ensuring that the target applied only to those with urgent health problems and that he had somehow said that secretly outside the House. However, I have looked carefully at the Secretary of State’s oral statement, given in the House just two days ago, and he was explicit about ensuring that the four-hour standard related to urgent health problems. He specifically referenced Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s medical director for acute care, and said that
“no country in the world has a”—
“standard for all health problems”.—[Official Report, 9 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 38.]
The target is for urgent health problems, and if we are to protect vulnerable patients, that is what we need to ensure—it is incredibly valuable.
The motion also relates to social care funding, so I want to talk about the charge that the Opposition keep making about local authority decisions. It is entirely true that the coalition Government had to make savings from local government budgets in the previous Parliament owing to the previous Labour Government’s lack of preparation following the dramatic financial crisis. We inherited a budget deficit of 11% and had to make such savings, but local councils had choices in the decisions they made about where the cuts fell. Gloucestershire County Council prioritised spending on adult social care, stating that it was the single most important service that it delivered. The budget related not only to older people; a third of it went on provision for adults with disabilities, including learning disabilities. The council protected that budget in cash terms, which is one reason why we are one of the best performers in the region and have low delayed patient discharge from the acute sector. While I do not pretend that there are no problems—of course there are challenges—the hard-working health and social care staff do an excellent job.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but his comments about local government are ludicrous. The cuts that local government faced were far greater than those to any Department. The Government cannot introduce that level of cuts and then say to local government, “You have to decide what you cut.” Of course that was going to lead to social care cuts.
The point that I was making is that my local authority also faced significant cuts and had to make choices. It chose to prioritise adult social care as the single most important service that it delivered, so it had to make difficult cuts in other areas. However, the choice to put adult social care at the top of the list of priorities was the right choice six years ago and remains the right choice today. If councils chose to put adult social care at the bottom of their list, that was not the right decision.
There is no acute A&E department in my constituency, but it is served by A&E departments in Gloucester and Cheltenham. I visited the new chief executive at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and met some of the staff in the A&E department—the hospital has had its challenges—and she is working hard with her management team on turning around the performance of A&E, which has not been up to scratch. I talked to her about the processes they are putting in place, and I am confident that, with the hospital’s hard-working staff and improved leadership, they will be able to hit the targets that the Government have asked them to meet.
I joined Gloucestershire police on a night shift last Saturday, and I went to Gloucestershire royal hospital A&E, too. I saw professional and compassionate staff offering care in no doubt pressured circumstances. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current STP process in Gloucestershire must be the occasion to enhance capacity elsewhere in the county and that that must include bolstering and enhancing A&E provision at Cheltenham general hospital?
The whole point of the STP process is to ensure that we have capacity across the health sector. One important thing that the Secretary of State talked about is the other changes to the health and social care system—indeed, that is mentioned in the Prime Minister’s amendment, which is why I will support it. In that I agree completely with the Chair of the Select Committee. We have to look at the two things together.
Unlike what the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) said, in Gloucestershire we are lucky to have a single CCG and a single county council, which work well together with lots of joint working, and they increasingly want to bring health and social care together. That is exactly what the Chair of the Select Committee said, it is the right thing to do and it is what the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire said is being done in Scotland to help deliver a better service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) is right that, the more we can improve capacity in the system to ensure that people can access primary care where they need it and can access social care where they need it, we will take pressure off the accident and emergency system. Indeed, when I visited the A&E department, it had a good triage system in place, with general practitioners based in the department to ensure that people with conditions that can be treated by general practice are signposted and treated in an appropriate setting, rather than damaging the service’s ability properly to deliver acute care to those who really need it. We need to consider such steps, going forward.
I do not know the detail of how the statistics are measured, but the important thing is to ensure that people who walk through the front door of an A&E department but who do not need urgent care receive care in the appropriate setting and are properly signposted, whether to community pharmacies, general practice or the information services that the NHS provides online or on the telephone. It is about making sure that people go to the right setting. The Government acknowledge that that is not perfect at the moment, and they are doing a lot of work to improve it in the future.
Finally, the Government’s moves to devolve spending power and decision making to local areas, particularly given what will happen in Greater Manchester, to bring health and social care together is the way forward, and I have certainly encouraged my local authority, as it leads the formulation of our devolution proposals, to make an ambitious ask of the Government on health. I hope the Government will look at that very seriously in the months ahead.
I do not know the collective noun for Government Chief Whips and Opposition Chief Whips, but I believe it is a crop of Whips. Anyway, it is an honour to follow two esteemed former Chief Whips.
I begin on a slightly less happy note by quoting from an educational psychologist who wrote to me this week:
“I and my colleagues are frequently overwhelmed, frustrated and in disbelief about the amount of work we need to manage, the difficulties in working across services because of cuts and changes to policy. Everyone is perpetually exhausted and burnt out. When we’re not at work because of training, illness or leave we feel simultaneously guilty and relieved.”
Her email went on to describe how she is the only clinical psychologist on duty in the whole of a very busy inner-London constituency.
I wish to comment briefly on the juncture between primary and secondary care, and on acute care. In the past 18 months, many of us have had the experience of fighting for a general practitioner’s service. The Westbury clinic, which lies just between my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), has been quite a battleground in the past 12 months. He and I have had to really fight for basic GP services for our constituents. I believe this situation is replicated across the country, and it is obviously what is leading to the build-up of individuals; as the Secretary of State has said, we have so many people turning up to A&E who probably could be seen by a GP but simply cannot get an appointment.
One problem we face in Stoke-on-Trent is that we are about half a dozen GPs away from the whole GP system collapsing, because as GPs are retiring or leaving for other reasons, their patients are then going to the ever-smaller number of GPs that there are. Two GPs are due to retire shortly, but if we lose half a dozen the whole GP system in Stoke-on-Trent is liable to collapse completely. What will that do to A&E?
That leads to an individual patient waiting 35 hours on a trolley to be seen, as happened this weekend. I know that a number of Members have made this point, but it bears repeating: it is disgraceful that staff are blamed when this is going wrong, given that the responsibility clearly lies with politicians—with the Government. I was upset to see that today’s front page of The Times blames the senior civil servant at the heart of the NHS, as this is really down to poor Government planning.
On the subject of poor planning, I am sure that my hon. Friend will, like the rest of the House, have heard James O’Brien speaking on LBC yesterday describing his experience of having conjunctivitis over the Christmas holiday and having to go to a community pharmacist because he could not get a doctor’s appointment and did not want to go to A&E. Is this not the maddest time ever to be considering closing thousands of community pharmacies? Is this not the time when we should be supporting them, not closing them?
I do not know whether a Brexit-fever madness took over, but there was a moment when cutting community pharmacies seemed like the right thing to do. Clearly, it was the wrong thing to do at such a crucial time, particularly given the impact of the illnesses to which we all fall prey during the winter months.
In my earlier intervention, I asked the Secretary of State about the flu epidemic. He assured me on the number of vaccinations, and I am pleased that more people have been vaccinated against seasonal flu. However, let me return to the point I was making. I understand that there has been quite an increase in the number of young people getting the flu, so we are not talking about people in the herd group who would have been advised to be inoculated against it. When people, tragically, get the flu they suffer, and doctors do not have time to isolate those individual cases. That creates a real risk, given how busy staff are, that that flu could become an epidemic. Having given us assurances today, I hope the Secretary of State will take that point up further with chief executives of acute trusts.
I want to give colleagues an idea of what is happening on social care. In 2010, I was a council leader and we had a social care budget for children—this is nothing to do with schools, just children—of £102 million. The same local authority now, in a busy London area, has for 2017-18 got a budget of £46 million. If someone is really telling me that the needs are half as much as they were in 2010 or that somehow families need less help and support, which is what children’s social care provides, I would be very surprised. A cut from £102 million to £46 million in 2017-18 is deeply worrying for the children who are in desperate need of social care.
Adult social care is equally worrying. The Secretary of State told us on Monday that we should not worry because £600 million is going into social care. I would not worry, except that I happen to know that, between 2010 and 2015, £4.8 billion was taken out. Anyone who has even key stage 2 maths will know that that does not add up. If £4.8 billion is taken out over a five-year Parliament, putting in £600 million 18 months later is not going to help.
I feel sorry for councils. If they increase tax, that is quite unpopular, but if they do not the Government blame them for not wanting to sort out the social care crisis. Even where the precept does bring the local authority quite a lot of money, the amounts raised do not help in the longer term because they just go towards a short-term fix—we are not actually fixing the problem that we need to be looking at: we need more homes in which older people can live comfortably, have fewer falls and accidents, be warmer so that they are not suffering from fuel poverty, and stay out of A&Es.
It is all about long-term planning, but we have built hardly any new homes, even for older folk. If we did so we could start a chain and enable their families to move into their old homes, thereby solving another problem. We have reached a crisis in which older folk end up in A&E and, on occasion, have to wait on a trolley for 35 hours, which I still cannot quite believe. I am sure that the newspapers are telling the truth, but 35 hours is an awfully long time to be on a trolley and not be seen.
Last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham and I had a debate on mental health in this very Chamber, which was followed by a meeting of Members of Parliament from the local sub-region. We were very worried about people suffering from mental health problems, for whom there is currently a perfect storm. First, there have been benefits cuts. We are now in our seventh year of austerity, and there is no doubt that people with mental health problems have been right at the bottom of the pile. Secondly, we have seen cuts to supported housing and all the programmes that helped people suffering with mental health problems to keep their tenancies. That is all being cut, so people have no one to support them, which is part of the reason they fall ill. Thirdly, we have seen cuts to the number of nurses. There are fewer mental health nurses in the system than there were two years ago and, of course, fewer beds.
A constituent came to see me at my surgery in November to say that he had fallen ill with a mental health problem. He was very surprised because he had never suffered in such a way before and was amazed by the poor care he received, in part because no one was available to diagnose him properly. He spent more than 24 hours in a padded cell, with no explanation and no indication of what sort of service he could expect. There were so few beds that he was sent about 20 miles away to be cared for at another hospital, leading to a great deal of stress and worry for his family.
The whole health system is in crisis and needs our urgent attention. Despite all the demands, political and otherwise, that the Brexit process is going to create, I hope we will not forget not only the most vulnerable—those with mental health problems or in social care and so on—but our basic, universal NHS for all.
I begin by objecting to the exaggerated language used over the weekend by Mike Adamson, the chief executive of the British Red Cross. What he said does a huge disservice to our hard-working healthcare professionals in the NHS. Such language was ill-thought-out, sloppy and irresponsible. The Red Cross does some fantastic work, as I am sure both sides of the House agree, but as a registered charity it is legally obliged to be apolitical. If Mike Adamson cannot remain neutral, I suggest that he examines his position carefully.
As a member of the Health Committee and chair and co-founder of the patient safety all-party group, healthcare is extremely important to me, and I am proud to be a Conservative Member of Parliament under this Government. It is thanks to this Government and this Health Secretary that NHS funding is at record levels.
The Government are committed to delivering a seven-day NHS and to expanding access to GP surgeries and hospital-based consultants at evenings and weekends. This winter, the NHS has made more extensive preparations than ever before. As the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, in the run-up to the winter period, there were over 1,600 more doctors and 3,000 more nurses than just a year ago. That is a record of which to be proud, and it would not have been achieved had we had the Opposition party running our national health service.
As chair of the patient safety APPG, I am pleased to say that the Government have introduced a new Ofsted-style inspection regime for the Care Quality Commission to improve patient safety. Hospital infections have been halved since 2010, with the level of MRSA down by virtually 50% and clostridium difficile by more than 50%. It is this Health Secretary who has taken the lead on this issue and put patients at the heart of the NHS.
Record numbers of people are being treated in our NHS and there are pressures on the service, but it is not this Conservative Government who are a threat to the NHS. If we look at the appalling situation of the NHS in Labour-controlled Wales, we will see that funding is being cut. As the latest statistics show, the NHS in Wales is failing to meet the four-hour A&E targets by a wide margin. It is clear to see who is rarely the defender of our national health service and who would cut investment.
In conclusion, it is this Government who are increasing spending on our NHS, who are focusing on improving patient safety and who are dedicated to providing the best possible service.
I am grateful for this opportunity to raise some of the serious concerns that have been caused by this Government’s refusal to fully fund our NHS. The Government are running out of places to cut corners to save money on the NHS. They are showing a lack of respect and compassion as they fail to provide the healthcare that people need and deserve. Those who need care at home are having to make do with 15-minute flying visits.
We have seen the pressure in A&E departments building over the past six years and yet every year we reach a winter crisis that is somehow a surprise to the Government. We have seen an increase in A&E waiting times, with more than 1.8 million people waiting more than four hours in 2015-16—an increase of over 400% since 2010.
Bed-blocking is increasing as our underfunded social care services struggle to deal with demand. We have seen an increase in the number of patients waiting on trolleys to be treated or admitted, and an increase in the number of hospitals running out of beds. We are also about to see a 12% cut to community pharmacies, which will lead to the closure or reduction in services of our local pharmacies. The time it takes to get a GP appointment is also increasing.
This is not the most complex of problems. If we want a proper functioning full person-centred care system that works with compassion and treats those in need professionally and efficiently, this Government must fund it.
In 2015, the head of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, said that the NHS needed £8 billion. It was this party that committed to fund it; the Labour party did not. If the hon. Lady is so keen on funding the NHS, why did the Labour party not pledge to do so back in 2015?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
Let me turn now to pharmacies. This Government fail to grasp the fact that cuts to one service will have a direct impact on another. Let me be clear: only two months ago, I stood on the Floor of this House to condemn the proposed 12% cut to community pharmacies, which could mean the closure of 25% of the 42 pharmacies in my Bradford West constituency. That highlights the short-sighted approach taken by this Government. They are attacking all forms of primary healthcare and frontline services on which people rely.
If the figures are correct, nearly 30% of people who attended A&E services in Bradford royal infirmary over the past month could have been treated elsewhere for minor ailments. Many of them could go to their local pharmacy, through our local ailments scheme, or see their GP. What is the Government’s long-term approach to these systemic issues if they continue to water down primary care services? All we will see is an increase in the number of visitors unnecessarily attending A&E and an increase in the problems faced by those needing access to services.
The impact of the reduction in GP services is the same. Only a few months ago, I campaigned with the local community to save Manningham health practice. The proposal was temporarily put on hold, although we still have fears. Thankfully, we managed to prevent that centre from being closed down in the short term, but others in my constituency are at risk. Many other MPs have GP surgeries in their constituencies that face uncertain futures due to the funding restraints. This paints a picture not only of the underfunding of primary care services, but of a strategy that simply does not work together. Even a simple understanding of healthcare provision would allow us to see that if we decrease NHS services in one sector, there is an impact on the rest of it and an increased pressure on other service providers. But this Government continue to underfund and cut funding to all aspects of frontline services, and they expect the quality of care to remain the same. Where is the long-term planning that will ensure that people get access to the care that they deserve and are entitled to?
The Government’s strategy is the same when it comes to local government social care funding. The cuts to local social care funding have been dramatic. As many other hon. Members have highlighted, nearly £4.6 billion has been taken out of the social care sector since 2010, mainly through local government funding cuts. My district of Bradford has just had to announce that it will need to find another £8 million in savings from its social care budget. The authority is trying to be innovative and trying to find ways to ensure that there is no effect on frontline care by putting its resources into prevention. For me, the Government still fail to recognise the impact of deprivation on care needs. In one of the four most deprived constituencies, health issues go hand in hand with deprivation. The cuts to local government funding make that even more evident. It is not the work of our exceptional healthcare staff that has caused this crisis. It is the reduction in funding and the short-term strategy of this Government that are responsible. It is time for them to wake up and provide the healthcare provision people deserve.
Many of my constituents are extremely fortunate to be served by Luton and Dunstable hospital—the hospital that was name-checked twice by the Secretary of State in his statement on Monday. One thing it does extremely well is its excellent streaming process in A&E, with good alternatives when A&E provision is not appropriate. That has helped the hospital to provide very high standards. I am also fortunate that my constituents’ social care is provided by Central Bedfordshire Council, which has been extremely innovative in building extra care court provision for older people. I visited those provisions, which are hugely popular and in central locations. They are much cheaper than residential care and provide a much better living environment for older people. That is exactly the sort of thing that we need a lot more of across the country. Those are two examples of really good individual practice within the NHS and social care. We need to be much better at spreading that good practice across the whole country.
It is worth putting on the record that since this time last year, we have more than 1,600 more doctors and 3,100 more hospital nurses. Since 2010, we have over 11,000 more doctors and 11,000 more nurses. The proportion of patients harmed by the NHS fell by more than a third between 2012 and 2015, and cases of infection are 50% lower than they were one year ago, which is a tremendous achievement. Health spending in England is actually 1% higher than the OECD average and the UK is spending more on long-term care as a percentage of GDP than Germany, Canada and the USA. The King’s Fund has said that STPs are the “best hope” for the future of the NHS in England, and Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers, has said that the system as a whole is doing “slightly better” than this time last year.
All that is dependent on having a strong economy, and I would argue that the Conservative party has demonstrated its competence in running the economy. Of course, I am not complacent, and I recognise that there is, in a sense, an arms race between the extra provision I am proud the Government have put in and the increasing demands on the NHS.
One issue that continually disappoints me is that we do not have enough of a focus on quality in these debates—they are always about funding. However, I draw attention again to the “Getting it Right First Time” initiative brought in by the Government just before Christmas, which is projected to save £1.5 billion that could be redirected back towards frontline patient care across 18 specialties. That will result in fewer infections and fewer revision operations, and we are using the data to shine a spotlight on variability, which is absolutely key for our constituents.
On mental health and the very welcome statement by the Prime Minister on Monday, I was delighted to hear the emphasis on first aid for mental health—something that will take place in our schools. However, as important, if not more important, is the issue of keeping fit for mental health. What do we all need to do to maintain good mental health? The Mental Health Foundation says we need to talk about our feelings, eat well, keep in touch with family and friends, take a break, accept who we are, keep active, drink sensibly, ask for help, do something we are good at and care for others. I do not think those 10 pointers from the Mental Health Foundation are as well known as they should be, so I am pleased to have put them on the record. It is crucial that we all look after our mental health, and that will help to reduce the stigma in this area.
Another issue I am passionate about is doing something about obesity, because although we have a national health service, we do not do enough to keep our fellow citizens healthy. I would like to see more emphasis placed on the excellent work of Dr Susan Jebb, an academic at the University of Oxford. She published an article in The Lancet just before Christmas showing that where GPs offered obese patients a referral to 12 weekly one-hour sessions, there was a significant reduction in the patients’ obesity.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman, like me, is a regular reader of the Daily Mail, and he will have noticed the proposal in yesterday’s paper that people who are obese, heavy smokers or even, God forbid, both should be denied medical treatment until they lose weight or stop the filthy habit of smoking. Would he like to recommend to those on his Front Bench the adoption of that policy?
What I am focusing on is what we can do to keep ourselves healthy and to reduce the demands on the NHS by behaving responsibly, and that is what I want to put the emphasis on.
That is important because a quarter of adults are obese, as are 14% of children between the ages of two and 15, and 18% of children in lower income households. Those figures should shame us all, and that is why I intervened on the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) and mentioned the daily mile, which was brought in by St Ninian’s Primary School in Stirling. We need to see more of that and, frankly, a strengthened obesity policy.
My daily newspaper at the moment is the China Daily—it happens to be delivered free to my office. I was intrigued to see that students at universities in China actually have to take a physical fitness test lasting 50 minutes at the beginning of each new semester or they will not be given a graduation certificate. I am not necessarily suggesting that we introduce that here, but we should look around the world to see what other countries are doing to promote the health of their populations—to keep them fit and healthy—and to reduce the pressure on health services.
At the other end of the age spectrum, we need to do a lot more to keep older people fit and healthy, as many of the issues with social care would be greatly lessened if older people were able to stay healthier into later life. I am proud to be associated with the Buzzards 50+ organisation in my constituency, which helps older people to take regular exercise at our local leisure centres. In Andorra, which I mentioned earlier, that is normal for the whole population. Older people in their 70s and 80s will regularly take part in water aerobics classes and go to the gym. When a BBC correspondent went there a few years ago, women in their 70s taking part in these exercises said, “There’s no point in spending your retirement shut up at home. What’s more important than keeping yourself fit? If you don’t keep your body moving, you won’t keep your mind in shape.” Frankly, we need a lot more of that type of activity in our own country to lessen the pressures on our social care system.
We have heard from Conservative Members about the so-called annual winter crisis, as though the situation we are in at the moment has always existed. Well, there have been crises in the past, but nothing like on the scale that we have seen recently. We are hearing about corridors being used as wards. I saw this in my own local hospital when I had to take my young son there. We went through into the ward and saw queues of trolleys with patients on them before my little son was seen to.
Last December, I wrote to the Department with a question—it was answered by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), who is in his place—about whether the Government could give the figures for the number of patients left queuing in corridors. I was told that there were no such figures. The Government and the Minister are well aware that this is going on in hospitals up and down the country. If the Government do not collect those figures centrally, but hospitals themselves collect them, the Government should ask for them; and if hospitals do not collect them, they are not carrying out their duty of care to our constituents, because it is important that people know how many patients are being held in corridors.
We hear stories about ambulances being redirected and bed occupancies being well over the 85% recommended level, and in many cases well over 95%. We have heard about the £4.6 billion of cuts in social care funding. Already, while it has not been made explicit, we are hearing talk of downgrading the four-hour A&E wait. In Preston, as I know myself, it is difficult to get GP appointments. If I ring and ask to see the doctor I want to see, I am often told that I will have to wait two to three hours—I mean weeks—to see that doctor. It probably will be two to three hours, at the very least, if I go to the hospital and it is a serious case. It is no wonder A&E is in crisis. A whole cohort of doctors in their mid-to-late 50s are looking forward to retirement. The number of doctors has increased, as we heard from the Health Secretary today, but that increase is nowhere near matching the number of doctors who are leaving the service or going to work elsewhere.
On the social care sector, we have seen tens of millions of pounds of Government cuts forced on Lancashire County Council. That is leaving the elderly vulnerable and more likely to have accidents at home, putting pressure on A&E as well. The mental health services—the Cinderella services—continue not to get the support they deserve. Since the closure of the acute mental health ward in Royal Preston hospital, the Avondale unit, I have seen mental health patients being decanted around Lancashire because they cannot get the care and support that they need in Preston.
Over a five-month period to August last year, we saw a 16% increase in attendance at A&E at Royal Preston hospital. Over the same period, average daily patient attendance increased from 217 per day to 255 per day. A small percentage of that increase was due to the closure of Chorley and South Ribble hospital’s A&E. I am sure that if the Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr Hoyle), were here, he would echo what I have said. However, it is not all due to the closure of Chorley’s A&E. Many patients who would have gone to Chorley are now attending the A&E in Wigan, or elsewhere. The Government should not be allowing wards to close when the demand is so high. The daily average for the number of ambulance arrivals has increased from 68 to 91, according to the North West Ambulance Service. In the meantime, a return to a 24-hour accident and emergency service at Chorley hospital has been ruled out. At best, there will be a 12-hour A&E service sometime later this month.
Preston has one of the 134 of 138 A&E departments up and down the country in which 95% of patients are not seen within four hours. I believe it is an absolute disgrace that only four A&Es in the country are meeting the four-hour standard. It is testimony to the cuts and austerity being forced on the NHS and local government social services departments up and down the country. I call on the Government to increase spending on social care and to fund the NHS further in this year’s Budget as a matter of urgency.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Preston (Mr Hendrick) in this debate. I am very conscious that I am following many Members on both sides of the Chamber who are far more learned about health matters and who bring with them very valuable experience from the frontline in the NHS.
Like all Members in the Chamber, I receive letters and visits from constituents who have concerns about the NHS and issues with their own health. As we all know, some of those issues can be very sad and emotive, and we all do our utmost to help them in what can be very difficult situations. However, let us not forget the many positive stories and experiences that we also hear about. Many of us will have had very positive experiences with the NHS in relation to how it has helped and continues to help us and our own families. It would be very wrong and unfair of us not to recognise those experiences.
I thank all NHS staff and those who work in the health and social care sectors for the work they do not just during the hard times, such as now, when there are winter pressures, but day in and day out throughout the year. In my family—my mother was a home carer for many years, and my sister is currently a practice nurse—I often hear about what it is like to work on the frontline. I also thank our local hospital in Walsall, the Manor hospital, which serves the constituents of Aldridge-Brownhills. Like many other hospitals, it faces many pressures. As we have heard today, A&Es saw the highest number of patients on the Tuesday after Christmas. I believe that all those involved in healthcare are working extremely hard to tackle this problem, and that includes the Secretary of State and his Ministers, with their work to do that and to move us towards a better and more sustainable future.
Hospitals across the country face huge pressures as we enter the winter period, as I have said. We increasingly have an ageing population, but the population is also increasing in numbers and many more treatment options are available than ever before. As we all know, many of those treatments come at a very high cost, but we would like to be able to meet that cost to help those patients. All these factors place challenges and pressures on the NHS, its staff and its resources. The impact of the ageing population has been raised with me by some of my local GPs, and we need to recognise and tackle this issue. I know that GPs in my surgeries would very much welcome the Minister if he were to drop by Aldridge-Brownhills on his way back to Shropshire one Friday for what would be a very useful and constructive roundtable discussion. That is an invitation to the Minister.
It is important to develop effective and integrated health and social care, but although money is an important factor, I do not believe this is just about money. In fact, the Secretary of State said in his speech today that we miss a trick if we say that it is. We forget that it is also about making progress on safety, standards and quality. I recall that a number of years ago, the headlines in the papers were always about really nasty hospital bugs and infections such as MRSA and clostridium difficile, and we have come a long way in working to combat those.
I am proud that the Government are committed to the NHS, and that as we enter the winter period we have nearly 1,800 more doctors and nearly 3,000 more hospital nurses than we had a year ago. We have launched the largest ever flu vaccine programme and allocated £400 million to local health systems for winter preparedness, and we have bolstered support outside A&E with 12,000 additional GP sessions over the festive period. Of course, there is and always will be more to do, but I believe that we are rising to the challenge and will continue to do so. I am sure that the Secretary of State and his team will continue to rise to that challenge as well.