I am sure we are all very relieved to be having the Adjournment debate at this hour, rather than at two o’clock in the morning, as was previously rumoured.
I must first declare my interest as a doctor. I am grateful for the opportunity to bring forward this extremely important debate—it is certainly important for our constituents—about the management of acute upper gastrointestinal bleeding. I am grateful to the British Society of Gastroenterology, and particularly to its president, Dr Ian Forgacs, for helping me with research in preparing for the debate. The BSG has done a great deal of work over many years to highlight this issue.
Between 50,000 and 70,000 people every year are admitted with acute upper gastrointestinal bleeding, and 10% will, sadly, die. That presents a significant challenge to our national health service.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that upper gastrointestinal bleeding is what was so vividly portrayed by Hugh Bonneville, as Lord Grantham, in Julian Fellowes’s “Downton Abbey”. As the New York Post said, the Downton ulcer his lordship had been moaning about for weeks finally erupted all over the dinner table and all over Lady Cora. That is at the extreme end of the spectrum, but when it happens it needs to be dealt with very quickly and proficiently.
I want to start with a little bit of good news. Lord Grantham was lucky to survive in the 1920s, but mortality from upper gastrointestinal bleeding has been falling in the UK, with modest improvements in recent years as new treatments and innovative therapies have emerged, despite an ageing demographic. That is a tribute to our NHS and to some great pioneering work in therapeutics and interventions, much of which has been trialled and researched in the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I asked him beforehand for permission to intervene. Northern Ireland has seen some improvements by allowing relatively experimental procedures, provided they are regulated, such as nitrogen treatment systems, to name just one. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all trusts across the UK need to share such information on any and all new developments, to advance treatments nationwide so that we all gain across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who takes an interest in these matters. He is right to say that we need to do more networking, to ensure that good practice is understood and inculcated. I will deal with some of that in my remarks.
Two major studies—one by NHS England and the British Society of Gastroenterology in 2013, and the other by the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death in 2015—highlighted significant shortcomings in provision, confirming earlier studies.
The foreword to the NCEPOD report is starkly entitled “A Bleeding Shame”. NCEPOD found that the clinical care of 45% of acute GI bleed patients was sub-optimal, with a similar number receiving care judged to be good overall. Alarmingly, a quarter of all hospitals treating upper gastrointestinal bleeding were found not to be accredited by the joint advisory group set up 20 years ago to set standards for endoscopy. More hospitals told NCEPOD that they could deliver open heart surgery of the sort Lord Grantham had in the 1920s than interventional radiology for this particular range of conditions.
Some would say that that is down to inadequate resources. That is the mantra we often hear, particularly from the Labour party, but the situation is far more complicated than that. Alarmingly, NCEPOD reported that organisational issues led to less than satisfactory care in 18% of cases. “Organisational issues” is a polite way of saying poor management, such as failure to organise rotas—the “Bleeding Rota”, as NCEPOD graphically puts it—and I will come back shortly to how that can be addressed with minimal resource implications.
I support the concept of the seven-day NHS, or at least my interpretation of what a seven-day NHS actually means. The management of this range of conditions provides an excellent case study of why seven-day working is important and why Ministers are right to pursue it.
Overall, the evidence does not support the proposition that relatively poor weekend healthcare outcomes for conditions across the board are attributable to a lack of seven-day working. As Professor Matt Sutton’s work, reported by the Office of Health Economics last year, has shown, the quality-adjusted life-year evidence just does not support the cost of translating midweek working to the weekend. Data on increased mortality for those admitted at the weekends are alone insufficient to justify organisational change.
The much cited Freemantle paper on weekend deaths does not say that excess weekend deaths are avoidable. Unfortunately, it has been quoted incorrectly by some who have confused association and causation.
Sir Bruce Keogh is right to say, however, that general hospitals are under-resourced at weekends, and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is right to point out that junior doctors are, to a certain extent, “winging it” out of hours, because consultants do not tend to be around to the same extent and many support functions are not, either. I remember it very well indeed. Sir Bruce was also right, in his 2013 review of 14 trusts with persistently high mortality rates, to commission Professors Nick Black and Ara Darzi to try to bottom out the relationship between excess mortality rates and avoidable deaths. Sadly, the report published last year did not seem to take us much further forward, other than to call into question the basis of the selection of trusts for the original Keogh review.
In my view, there is a firm argument for a seven-day-a-week NHS, but we need a common understanding of what that actually means beyond the soundbite. Upper GI bleeding is a good case in point, which the Government could perfectly reasonably use to support their proposals for seven-day working without resorting to selective quoting from, for example, the Freemantle paper. Most people are really not bothered about the inability to get an outpatient appointment in dermatology on a Saturday afternoon. That is a luxury bordering on an indulgence. However, if their Downton ulcer erupted on a Friday night, they would not really want to wait until a chaotic Monday morning list before getting endoscoped. They would need to be scoped on a routinely scheduled endoscopy list the following day, and they should not be subjected to delay in investigative and interventional radiology if that is necessary to manage their case optimally.
As far back as 2004, a large study by Sanders published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology showed that dedicated GI bleed units are associated with reduced mortality. NCEPOD asserts that patients with upper gastrointestinal bleeding should only be admitted to units with on-site endoscopy, on-site or networked interventional radiography, on-site surgery and on-site critical care. It promotes the model of comprehensive, dedicated GI bleed units in hospitals on acute medical take. We are far from achieving that.
That highlights some broader issues around right-sizing the NHS estate for optimal acute and critical care outcomes, which is a subject that I have raised before. Because critical care requires multi-specialties, because of the need for increased sub-specialisation and all that implies for populating staff rosters, and because of the better outcomes in large specialist units, not to mention the cost pressures, optimal management of this range of conditions underscores neatly the need for the model hospital concept outlined in February by Lord Carter of Coles. Why are we not moving faster towards having secondary and tertiary care in regional and sub-regional centres, where critical mass, and therefore quality of outcome, can be more readily assured?
I am proud to support a Government who are spending more on the NHS than ever before—spending, let it be remembered, that was opposed by the Labour party at the general election. However, outcomes in the UK routinely compare unfavourably with those in similar countries, with which we can reasonably be compared. I have no specific comparative data for acute upper GI bleeding, but I have no reason to suppose that they run counter to that general trend. The unavoidable truth is that our neighbours spend significantly more on healthcare than we do. Norman Lamb and I, with colleagues across the House, have called for a commission to achieve consensus on long-term funding. That is despite Simon Stevens’s five-year forward view, which does not come close to addressing what is needed to make progress, given the assumptions on which it is based, which we know we cannot rely on.
It is not just about money, however. The impression given by the studies that I have relied on is that the management of acute upper GI bleeding is a hit-and-miss affair. The BSG blames a
“lack of engagement from senior managers” for that patchiness. That ties in with the remarks made last week by Dame Julie Moore, who said that there was a “culture of indecision” in the NHS, and that there was “gross incompetence” and a “failure of leadership”. That is pretty hard hitting from a very senior NHS manager, and I wonder how individuals can justify salaries well in excess of the Prime Minister’s if they are failing to get a grip on the sort of shortfalls described as “A Bleeding Shame” by NCEPOD. Dame Julie is right to ask why incredibly expensive senior NHS managers who are managing failure on this scale are still in post.
Last year’s NCEPOD report on acute upper GI bleeding is a wake-up call. Its first and prime recommendation —that patients with any acute GI bleed should be admitted only to hospitals with 24/7 access to on-site endoscopy, on-site or formally networked interventional radiology, on-site GI bleed surgery and on-site critical care—must be implemented without further delay. The answer is dedicated GI bleeding units that are seven-day NHS-compliant, and, with very few exceptions, no unit that cannot match the BSG’s guidelines should take patients with acute upper GI bleeding.
I look forward to hearing how the Minister will make this so. I invite him to return to the House after 12 months, if I am fortunate enough to secure another Adjournment debate of this sort, to tell us how the position has improved.
I thank my hon. Friend Dr Murrison for his wide-ranging introduction to this important matter, and for his ability to make this difficult medical subject relevant using the important context of “Downton Abbey”. Lord Grantham’s ulcer is, indeed, a filmic representation of a dangerous clinical event that can happen to people. Mercifully, its incidence in this country is relatively low when compared with that of our European partners and colleagues, although the mortality rates associated with GI bleeding are higher than we would wish. The data are not as robust as I would like them to be, and comparisons can therefore not be nice ones, but none the less mortality rates are not as low as they should be when compared with European comparators.
My hon. Friend points out a number of reasons why that should not be the case. He speaks wisely about the need for on-site site endoscopy, on-site radiology, on-site surgery and on-site critical care, all of which were recommended by the NCEPOD report. That tallies closely with the most recent National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines. The guidelines specify that endoscopy should be offered to unstable patients with severe acute upper gastrointestinal bleeding immediately after resuscitation and offered within 24 hours of admission to all other patients with upper GI bleeding.
Reports from NHS Improving Quality and the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death, to which my hon. Friend referred, go further and state that that will require the appropriate structures to be in place at all hours of the day and on all days of the week. As he reflected, that tallies well with the aims of the Government in producing a seven-day NHS, although I will, if I may, take issue with certain aspects of his comments in a few moments.
The audit of endoscopy services for acute upper gastrointestinal bleeding in 2007 found that only half of all acute trusts in England were compliant with NICE guidelines in this area. The most recent survey has shown some improvement. In 2013, 62% of services are able to provide a formal 24/7 rota for endoscopy specialists, and 56% of services can offer acute admissions for endoscopy within 24 hours of admission. While this is an improvement, there is clearly a long way to go if only 62% and 56% of services respectively provide the kind of provision we expect. Our aim, therefore, is to ensure that every patient has 24/7 access to safe, high-quality GI endoscopy services with facilities to perform an interventional procedure linked to other essential interventions, such as interventional radiology and surgery. High-quality care will not only reduce mortality and complications but increase early discharge, through the use of formal risk assessment scores, and reduce lengths of stays.
It is therefore important that those services are available to those patients at all hours of the day, and on all days of the week. That is why we have made clear our commitment that, by the end of this Parliament, patients with urgent and emergency hospital care needs will have access to the same level of consultant review, diagnostic tests and treatment seven days a week; patients with upper GI bleeds will be one of many cohorts of patients to benefit from that.
At this point I should be very clear in my response to my hon. Friend. He restated the position, often quoted by Opposition Members, that somehow there is a lack of definition about our intentions for 24/7 services. I say to him gently that we have been very clear indeed about how we believe the seven-day NHS will be delivered. In secondary and tertiary care, it will be based entirely on the needs of urgent and emergency care pathways. Those pathways have been outlined in 10 clinical standards brought together by the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, under the chairmanship of Sir Bruce Keogh. Those 10 clinical standards have informed the policy we have developed on urgent emergency care, which will be announced and rolled out in the weeks and months to come.
We could not have been more clear, both in this place—I believe we have been clear to my hon. Friend—and to the public at large, that our intentions for a seven-day NHS are rooted in the provision of a consistent urgent and emergency care pathway for patients. We have never intended to mandate from the centre non-acute dermatological services, as he suggested, or any other service like that.
Clearly, to support good 24/7 services in hospitals we have to be able to provide exceptional diagnostic services. Whatever the lacunae in the current evidence base around particular specialties in the NHS—we are never going to have a full picture in the way we might wish—we can draw general conclusions. One, which my hon. Friend rightly drew, is that the quality of diagnostics needs to be consistent, people need to have access to those diagnostic services on a regular, rigorous, robust and consistent basis, and those services need to be available on a Saturday night much as they would be on a Monday morning. That is why the Government’s intentions on 24/7 services involve consistent diagnostic services, as we have made clear since the beginning of the policy.
It is important to explain how those services will become priorities for trusts. In the roll-out of a consistent 24/7 service in diagnostics, we want to be clear to trusts about exactly what is expected of them. Patients admitted as an emergency should be seen as soon as possible by a consultant for review, but at least within 14 hours of arrival at hospital. In-patients must have scheduled seven-day access to the full range of diagnostic services, including endoscopy, with reporting of results within one hour for critical patients and 12 hours for urgent patients. In-patients must also have timely 24-hour in-patient access to consultant-directed interventions such as critical care, interventional radiology, interventional endoscopy and emergency general surgery, either on-site or through formally agreed network arrangements. Finally, all acutely ill patients in high dependency hospital areas, such as the acute medical unit and the intensive care unit, must be seen and reviewed by a consultant twice daily.
I hope my hon. Friend will see that we are already encapsulating his principal demands about upper gastrointestinal bleeding in the general outline of the clinical standards that we plan to roll out to ensure consistent quality of care for urgent and emergency care pathways.
We will monitor the implementation of those clinical standards through transparent metrics, and I hope that in a year, if my hon. Friend is successful in securing a further Adjournment debate—I would happy to brief him privately on this issue both then and in the interim—he will see that through the transparent metrics that we will publish on mortality, length of stay, emergency readmissions and whole series of other measures, there will be trust compliance across clinical standards.
I understand that mortality rates for hospitalised conditions can be as much as 35%. That worries me, and I am not sure whether the Minister has addressed that issue. He referred to 10% mortality, but some hospitalised conditions have a 35% mortality rate. We must address that.
There is variation in mortality, and I hope we will make progress in that area over the next period. We must understand comparisons of mortality across the country, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Secretary of State is interested in discovering and understanding that issue. We must also understand variations across the European Union, and in the United Kingdom where there are apparent variations between practice in England and that in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some of that comes down to data collection, but we must understand where it comes down to practice and consider how we can improve in accordance with our most neighbourly health systems.
I appreciate the Government’s intention, but I do not know whether my local hospital is accredited. I am highly concerned about the current postcode lottery. What is the Minister’s plan right now, tonight, for people who are going to a hospital that does not have an adequate rota system and is not accredited?