Unfortunately, I had to rush a family member to hospital last Saturday afternoon at a time when my local GP surgery is no longer open, but that gave me a chance to see at first hand how the winter pressures are being dealt with, and I have some good news to share with the House.
Our local GPs came together this year and agreed to run an urgent care centre at the hospital with a doctor on duty 24/7. On arrival, we saw a notice in reception stating that the average waiting time was three and a half hours, so I settled down to see how it was all going to work. The absolute key to the smooth running of this healthcare frontline was triage. Calmly and efficiently, a doctor and nurse quickly assessed who needed to be seen by whom and where. People could either just turn up or they could ring 111. Dr Whitford is right that things need to be just that simple or people will just go to A&E. Sensibly, children and frail elderly patients were seen the quickest, so we were in and out of the hospital in an hour and a half, and we were even directed by the thoughtful GP to a pharmacy that was still open late at night. So I want to place on the record my thanks to the staff at Solihull Hospital and to our CGG, led by Dr Anand Chitnis, for their foresight in conceiving how to provide better emergency cover, and I commend the model to the House.
Today’s motion states that the Government have failed
“to allocate adequate resources to the NHS.”
However, investment in the NHS will increase from £101 billion in 2015 to £120 billion in 2020, which is £2 billion more than the NHS asked for in its own plan for the future. The question of how much money is needed is just as important as how it is spent. It is right to remember that we are not the only country with an ageing society that is facing such challenges. Not only do we spend more than the EU average, but new research shows that we spend more on healthcare than the average for OECD countries.
For all my 20 years as MP, Labour has claimed at every election that the Conservatives will privatise the NHS, but we have not. It is dishonest and misleads the public, worrying them unduly, and distorts the view of young people who do not yet have years of experience of Conservatives consistently putting more money into healthcare. I am therefore glad that the Prime Minister has given the Secretary of State the additional responsibility of social care, because every grown-up politician knows that we cannot sort out the problems of the NHS without also working out how to get people out of hospital in a timely fashion and into proper support in the community. Our attempts to tackle that funding issue were discredited at the general election when our policy was characterised as a dementia tax, which shows that no party will crack the problem on its own without cross-party determination. I therefore challenge the Labour party to give up the vote-harvesting approach to the NHS and to support a royal commission on health and social care for the sake of everyone who needs it.