Between February 2016 and January 2017, there were just under 3,500 waits of longer than 12 hours from decision to admit to admission. That is completely unacceptable, which is why the Government took urgent steps to free up NHS bed capacity in this month’s Budget.
Earlier this month, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners said that the “best place for GPs” is working within their communities to provide the highest possible general practice quality. What forecast has the Secretary of State made of the reduction in A&E waiting times next winter as a result of the new GP triage units in A&E departments? Does he agree that this is simply a small sticking plaster on the gaping wound that is our drastically underfunded NHS?
Let me just tell the hon. Lady what is happening to what she says is a “drastically underfunded NHS”. In her local hospital, St George’s, we have got 36 more doctors—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Lady had a question, it was rather overlong and the least courtesy she can do the House is to listen quietly and with good manners to the reply.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. To continue, let me say that in this so-called “drastically underfunded NHS”, the hon. Lady’s local hospital—St George’s in Tooting—now has 36 more doctors working in A&E than there were in 2010. However, we also think that as a lot of people go to A&E departments with minor injuries and things that can be dealt with by GPs, we need to have GPs on site, and this Parliament we are planning to have 5,000 more doctors working in general practice.
In January, more than 1,000 patients at the Countess of Chester’s A&E unit had to wait more than four hours and only 81% of patients had to wait less than four hours. Now that the 95% target has been abandoned, until at least midway through next year, what guarantee can the Secretary of State give my constituents that we will not get a repeat of this next winter?
On the contrary, we have not abandoned the 95% target—we have reiterated its importance. There is, however, one part of the United Kingdom that has said it wants to move away from the 95% target—Wales. The Welsh Health Minister said last week:
“You can go to A&E and be there five hours but have…a good experience.”
That is not looking after patients; it is giving up on them.
On this important issue of A&Es, does the Secretary of State agree that it makes no sense at all for my local clinical commissioning group to be bringing forward a business case to spend an extra £300 million on bulldozing Huddersfield royal infirmary and downgrading our A&E?
I recognise the very strong arguments my hon. Friend makes and the strong campaigning he does on behalf of his constituents. We are waiting for the final recommendations to come from his local CCG, but I agree that too often we have closed beds in the NHS when we do not have alternative capacity in the community, and we need to be very careful not to repeat that mistake.
The cost of presenting with a minor ailment at a pharmacy is only 10% of the cost of presenting at A&E. What more can be done to help persuade those who present themselves to A&E that the pharmacy sector could be a better use of their time?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on that. Despite the current debates, the pharmacy sector has a very bright future, and we have set up a £40 million integration fund precisely to help pharmacists to play more of a role in the NHS and, in particular, to reduce pressure on A&Es.
This year, the winter crisis in A&E has been the worst ever. Things have got so bad that, rather than waiting in A&E, record numbers of people are just giving up—I am sure there are many who wish the Secretary of State would do likewise. In January, nearly 1,000 people were stuck on trolleys waiting more than 12 hours to be admitted to A&E. Will the Secretary of State accept that that is far more than just a small number of isolated incidents? After five years in the job, he has to accept responsibility for the crisis he has created.
I accept responsibility for everything that happens in the NHS, including the fact that, compared with 2010, we are seeing 2,500 more patients within four hours every single day. We are also seeing a big increase in demand, which is why there were particular measures in the Budget to make sure that we return to the 95% target, including £2 billion for social care, which is £2 billion more than the Labour party promised for social care at the election.
The urgent care centre at Corby has done much to relieve the pressures on Kettering A&E, and it is a class leader. Given the announcement of £100 million for new triaging projects, would the Secretary of State like to visit the Corby urgent care centre to see this beacon of best practice at first hand?
That is a very generous offer, and if I possibly can, I would love to take my hon. Friend up on it.