Last year, the number of excess winter deaths was 45% lower than in the previous year, and contingency planning for this winter is well under way, with £400 million allocated to local health systems for winter preparedness.
This time last year, St Helens CCG told me it needed to postpone elective operations and referrals in order to get through winter. Six months later, it was £12.5 million in deficit and proposing to cancel all non-urgent surgery indefinitely. What the Health Secretary is proposing does not make the problems go away—it stores them up. When will the Government give local trusts and clinicians the funding they require? Stop passing the buck and start passing the bucks!
With the greatest respect, I do not think it is passing the buck to put £1.3 billion more into the NHS this year than the hon. Gentleman was proposing at the last election. A lot of actions are being taken in Cheshire and Merseyside; a local accident and emergency delivery board was set up, which is doing very important work, and the emergency care improvement programme is working very well at his local trust.
There is great pressure on emergency services throughout Staffordshire at the moment. There would be even more without the accident and emergency centres in Stafford and Burton, yet the sustainability and transformation plan proposes to reduce one of them, so there will only be two left in the county. Will the Secretary of State speak to the authors of the STP to make it clear that this is totally unacceptable given the current situation?
No one fights harder and more eloquently than my hon. Friend for the needs of the people of Stafford. I always look with concern at proposals to change emergency services given the huge pressures that exist, so I shall happily look at the plan as he suggests.
The problem is not just winter pressures but pressures all year round. The Secretary of State will no doubt tell me that the Government have now allowed councils to increase the precept to allow councils to fund it better, but the fact is that that is not enough money. There is no strategy. Does anyone outside the Department—those in the Department might not either—believe that the Government has a strategy for social care?
All I would do is urge the hon. Gentleman to listen to what the Prime Minister said at this Dispatch Box last week. She said that we recognise the short-term pressures—indeed, the Communities Secretary came up with a package of £900 million extra over the next couple of years—but that we also need a long-term sustainable solution, on which the Government are working hard.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the pressures of winter that needs improving is inappropriate admissions to A&E? Does he accept that the proposals by the Essex success regime to ensure that the three hospitals concerned will retain their A&E departments but that there will be a specialist centre for cardiothoracic care and for burns and plastic surgery care are the right way forward to improve and enhance the care for those suffering from accidents and emergencies?
My right hon. Friend understands these matters extremely well from his time as a very distinguished Health Minister. He is absolutely right; the truth is that we want widespread availability of A&Es but we do not serve patients best by offering identical services everywhere. That is why in the past three or four years one of the things we are most proud of is the setting up of a national network of 26 trauma centres, which has had a dramatic impact on mortality rates for the most serious cases.
I have just been advised by a very sagacious source that in supplementary questions and answers to this question some reference to winter is desirable.
I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks about Berlin. I wish everyone in the House a merry Christmas and I extend my best wishes for a very peaceful and joyful Christmas and new year to all NHS staff, especially those working over Christmas. Pressures on the NHS this winter are such and the underfunding is so severe that hospitals have been ordered to close operating theatres for elective surgery over Christmas. Is this what the Secretary of State means by a seven-day NHS?
Let me wish the shadow Health Secretary a merry Christmas and say that despite his rhetoric I see that Santa has been quite generous to him. His local trust in Leicester has 254 more nurses and 306 more doctors than in 2010. Next year, we will have a new £43 million emergency floor at the Leicester royal infirmary. We need to ensure that there is sufficient bed capacity in our hospitals over winter—that is a very important part of winter planning—but we are also doing 5,000 more elective operations every day than when Labour was in office.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State has done his research on Leicester, but is closing operating theatres for a month this Christmas not, in reality, a short-term fix? The truth is that when the pause ends and hospitals fill up again above the 85% occupancy recommendations, patients will be left with a simple choice: get stuck on a waiting list while hospitals try to reduce occupancy rates to safe levels, or risk going into a hospital when it is at full capacity and potentially unsafe and be exposed to higher infection risks. Which option would the Secretary of State choose?
May I gently urge the hon. Gentleman to be careful with his rhetoric? We are not closing operating theatres for a month over Christmas. We need to be very careful what we say in this place, because people outside are listening. The answer is to ensure that we increase capacity in the NHS, and that is why we have 11,000 more doctors and 11,000 more hospital nurses than we had six years ago. We are training 15,000 more doctors every year from 2018-19 to ensure that we can avoid these problems in the future.