It is a pleasure to follow Imran Hussain.
It is depressing to hear the Opposition laying into the NHS, which is an extraordinary group of real people working day in, day out to look after all our constituents when their health needs to be supported and mended. I commend all the staff across Northumberland’s healthcare family who work so hard not only over the past few weeks but 365 days a year to look after all of my constituents.
Much can be achieved through good planning to pre-empt the winter health crisis, as it is known, and the increased impacts that winter brings. I have an unfair advantage in Northumberland because Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has been led and built into what it is now under the great auspices of Jim Mackey, whom we lent to NHS Improvement for a couple of years to try to share those skills across the whole NHS. It is lovely for us to have him back, so I thank Ministers for sending him back up to Northumberland.
As a result of 15 years of intelligent planning by senior leadership, we have had no blanket cancellations in Northumberland, and we have an unchanged schedule except only for specific cases. No clinically time-sensitive operations will be cancelled, and most operations are carrying on as normal. In November, the trust decided to transfer one surgical ward to general medicine to ensure greater capacity—thinking ahead to the regular changes that winter weather tends to bring.
We have almost no delayed transfer of care in Northumberland, thanks to the sophisticated planning set in motion by Jim Mackey and his team some years ago, working directly with Northumberland County Council so that our social care and our healthcare work hand in glove. It works, and we are doing it in Northumberland. I urge every MP to encourage their councils to build that relationship, because it genuinely works. I also continue to encourage the Government to make sure our accountable care organisation is one of the first to be signed and sealed so that our holistic healthcare family works for patients.
Flu hit the north-east first, but we are functioning and coping well. Our statistics are good, with bed occupancy at 91%, and yesterday we met our A&E waiting time targets in 95% of cases. Our nursing vacancies are at a historic low of only 1%, again thanks to planning and a positive recruitment campaign in specific staff group areas where we knew there would be shortages. As a result, our nursing agency usage in Northumberland is very low.
Nothing is ever perfect, so I continue to raise the thorny local issue of community hospitals, where our bed provision is currently lower than it should be. Increased provision would help to relieve pressures caused by delayed transfer of care by ensuring that there is support for those who have a level of vulnerability and who cannot, or should not, go home straight from the acute hospital environment. In a rural patch, community nurses cannot practically provide such support in the way that it could be provided in an urban environment. Community nurses just cannot get to as many places in a day when they have to travel miles and miles between patients. The community hospital framework must be part of the new bigger social care model.
I thank both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary for fighting to bring healthcare and social care together in one place, because that will start to do what we already see in Northumberland. I would like every MP to be able to tell the same positive story in the months and years ahead.