NHS Winter Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 10th January 2018.

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Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 2:45 pm, 10th January 2018

Here we are again discussing the latest winter crisis in our NHS. I stood here last year and spoke of the horror stories I had heard from my constituents and ex-colleagues, of hospital staff working their fingers to the bone and doing the jobs of two, three or even four people, often without food, breaks or even time to go to the toilet. Yet, 12 months on, here we are again with many of the same challenges and none of the fixes promised by this Government.

I join my parliamentary colleagues in expressing a huge thank you to each and every one of our hard-working NHS staff—doctors, nurses, receptionists, cleaners, porters, radiographers and everyone else. I often speak of our public sector heroes, and today is no different. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I express a special thank you to the paramedics who rushed my father, my dear dad, into hospital on 28 December. My gratitude is infinite.

Last year, the Government said the winter pressure was due to more patients being seen by the NHS. That figure is rising year on year, so why have the Government not put sufficient resources in place to deal with it? The Health Secretary previously said there are far more doctors and nurses in our NHS than there were seven years ago. In my area, the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust currently has 230 nursing vacancies, compared with 110 last year, with nursing numbers across the trust down over the same period from 1,752 to 1,607. That picture is somewhat different from the one painted by the Secretary of State, who has used figures that the Library says should be “used with caution” as

“Changes in the number of staff can sometimes reflect organisational changes and changes in the structure of services, rather than genuine changes in staffing levels.”

Indeed, staffing levels are so low at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust that the Care Quality Commission has deemed it to be a risk to patient safety.

My colleagues and I were heavily criticised during last year’s debate for asking the Government to spend more money, and once again we hear the same criticism this year. Will they tell us what the solution actually is? We need more nurses, and obviously there are training implications, but more money is needed to pay for them, and it is the same with doctors. There needs to be less bed-blocking, and more money is needed in social care. It is only right that serious questions are asked in this House when the Budget gives more money to pay for Brexit than to pay for our NHS.

The sad reality is that NHS deficits are rising astronomically across the country, with multimillion-pound shortfalls being recorded and balancing the books becoming impossible for most trusts. The £350 million made available in the Budget is no more than a drop in the ocean, and it has been proved over and again over the past few weeks that the money does not even scratch the surface.

And what of the cost of cancelled operations, both to trusts and especially to patients? People are being left in tremendous pain and at significant risk as a result of cancellations. I know of one man who is waiting for an operation to close his skull following life-saving brain surgery earlier this year. The surgery itself is not classed as urgent, but until it is completed, he is at increased risk of death should he bang his head accidentally. As a result, he rarely leaves the house and has to wear a helmet at all times. Another person who contacted me is waiting for a new knee. He is in excruciating pain and is unable to move around unaided. He has been on sick leave for three months and is suffering severe financial hardship as a result of loss of earnings.

As well as the accounts of cancelled operations, in recent days I have heard stories from local hospitals of six patients being squeezed into four-bed bays with no curtains and no dignity, no lockers and no bells. Patients are being given hand bells or are being told to ask the patient next to them to ring the bell should there be an emergency. Patients are being placed in store cupboards, as we heard earlier. It has now become almost the norm at this time of year—