National Health Service

Part of Opposition Day — [14th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:24 pm on 21st January 2015.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 6:24 pm, 21st January 2015

It has been a dispiriting afternoon, listening to the Secretary of State and Government Back Benchers saying that they do not play politics with the NHS while doing exactly that by blaming a previous Labour Government. They say they respect and care about NHS staff but they are not even prepared to pay them the 1% increase that has been recommended. Most of all, they say that they care about individual incidents but ignore statistics, whereas those statistics are simply the aggregate of so many individual tragedies that are going on at the moment.

Let me explain what I mean by that last point. This week, the Evening Standard has been running a series on the London ambulance service, and yesterday it was revealed that the head of the service had resigned after producing the worst results in the country—in only two thirds of the greatest emergency cases did the ambulances arrive within the target time. On Monday, it was reported that there had been a two thirds increase between November and December in stacking—ambulances waiting more than 30 minutes outside hospitals—across London. What those statistics, bad as they are, hide is shown in the e-mails I get every week from my constituents.

One such e-mail was about an incident where someone on a pizza delivery bike was hit by a car, with the rider badly injured. The police arrived rapidly and administered first aid. They were

“overheard to say that the victim was bleeding from the ear and his injuries may be ‘life-changing’”,

but that the fact they had arrived might itself delay an ambulance arriving. In this case, it took an hour an a half for that to happen. Another e-mail was about an elderly man who fell, cut his head and was lying in blood. The neighbours came out to help, but after an hour, during which time no ambulance had arrived, he was helped back into his home. Another e-mail relates to the case of a constituent who came to the aid of somebody who had come off their bicycle and broken their nose on Shepherd’s Bush road. My constituent was told by a paramedic, who was phoning back, that it would be at least two hours before an ambulance arrived, and they managed to get a police officer to take the injured person by minicab to Chelsea and Westminster A and E. I am sorry to say that I get those e-mails every week.

That is about the ambulance service, but what is happening to A and E? The A and E departments of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust are performing at a level where about one in four people wait more than four hours, but at Christmas it was one in three. In neighbouring hospitals, performance has been as low as having half the people wait more than four hours—for example, at Northwick Park before Christmas. Let me read out what one constituent has written. He is the son of a 94-year-old woman and the following words say it all:

“She was seen by her GP…and he arranged for her to go to Charing Cross A & E department by ambulance and we arrived there at 6 pm. The department was extremely busy with people waiting in corridors due to a lack of beds.

Although it was not ideal I agreed with the doctor to start her treatment while she was sitting in the corridor. I say treatment but it was only preliminary things such as taking blood and inserting a line feed in her arm in order to administer antibiotics.

My mother is incontinent and needs help with going to the toilet. Because the staff were rushed off their feet she could not receive the help she needed in a timely manner.

It is obvious that the closure of the other A & E departments in West London has had an adverse effect on those that remain open.

It was not until about midnight”— six hours later—

“that she was given a bed and a room of her own…where finally she was given an examination by another doctor.

At 1 am I left the hospital and returned the next morning to be told she was being transferred to Hammersmith Hospital because there were no beds available at Charing Cross.

I think you will agree that this level of care is unacceptable. While I cannot fault the staff at Charing Cross the whole Conservative policy of closures in West London is the worst political decision they have ever made.”

The point is that I could have been talking about anywhere in England, although in reality the situation in west London is much, much worse. Two of our A and E departments closed last September, and A and E figures plummeted after that. At last night’s meeting of the council committee that scrutinises Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust managers, I asked whether they would now review—not cancel but simply review–their decision to close the A and E department at Charing Cross hospital, demolish that hospital, lose 93% of the in-patient beds and lose the best hyper-acute stroke unit in the country. Still they would not answer. They would not say yes and they would not say no. They are frozen; they cannot do anything but continue. Perhaps that is why the CQC said that all that trust’s hospitals requirement improvement, why the trust’s foundation status bid is on hold at the moment and why I and several of my west London colleagues have written to the Secretary of State to ask him to intervene. I am not holding my breath. Even though we represent more than 1 million people between us, he has done nothing and has not been willing to meet us for the past two years. That is a disgrace.