I have repeatedly praised Torbay council in the hon. Lady’s part of the world, which was the well regarded pioneer of integrated care. Yes, there are examples of councils around the country trying to do the right thing, but let me make two points: first, the Torbay model has been broken apart by the Health and Social Care Act; and, secondly, councils are trying, but they have been battered by the massive cuts to their budgets about which Age UK is warning today, and which are setting back the cause of integration.
The reality is that elderly people are going into A and E and getting trapped there. As I have already mentioned, there is the sad case of an elderly women in Lincoln who spent an entire calendar year in hospital because a care home place could not be found. That is simply wrong on every level, and it is unsustainable in human and financial terms. The collapse of social care is a root cause of the current A and E crisis because it has led to increased pressure at the entrance door of the hospital, and to the exit door becoming blocked.
For those who still get some support, 15-minute visits are becoming the norm. Richard Hawkes, chairman of the Care and Support Alliance, has said that A and E
“is forced to pick up the pieces when people become isolated, can’t live on their own and slip into crisis.”
My last question to the Secretary of State is: does he agree with Richard Hawkes that cuts to social care have contributed to the extra 600,000 people who now attend A and E every year?
The evidence is clear: on NHS 111, on walk-in centres, on GP services, on social care—this is a mess of the Government’s making. I am sure that the text of the Secretary of State’s speech is full of the usual spin and self-serving excuses, but he must not sit down until he answers directly the four questions I have put to him, not for my benefit, but so that he does not insult the intelligence of the people watching. He is in charge, not me. People are looking to him for answers and solutions, so let me give him some in the time I have left.
As I have said, let us get nurses back on the end of the phones at NHS 111, and let us have a review of the 111 service. I hear that contracts are about to be signed—for instance, to take a contract off an ambulance service—and they will extend this flawed model of care. Will the Secretary of State intervene to stop those contracts being signed until there has been a proper review?
Will the Secretary of State review the plan to relax ambulance response times in the pilot? That is surely the wrong response during this very difficult winter. Is he absolutely convinced that now is the right time to experiment with relaxing established standards? Does it not make sense to delay it until a quieter time of the year, and not to do it in the most troubled ambulance service in the country?
On walk-in centres, would not one of the simplest things the Secretary of State could do to stop the A and E situation getting worse be to commit to halt any further closures? We know that walk-in centres in Jarrow, Nuneaton and Chelmsford are under threat. Would it not help everybody if he just removed that threat today? On GP services, has he considered putting a GP in every A and E?