I am really pleased to be able to contribute to the debate. Although the Opposition have, as expected, used this occasion yet again to weaponise our NHS, I want to take this opportunity to praise it and all those who work in it, particularly in my constituency, where the staff at Southport Hospital are professional, dedicated and hard-working.
There will always be times when our NHS comes under great pressures, and winter is one of them. That was why, in 2017, the Government and the NHS began preparing for the winter earlier than ever before. Last autumn, the Secretary of State visited my local hospital. He had a meeting with me and the interim chief executive in which we talked through the plans that had been put in place for the coming winter, as well as paying tribute to excellent staff who had worked so hard and continue to do so. Those preparations involved working with a range of partner organisations, including the local clinical commissioning group, the local authority and the emergency services, which provided better joined-up thinking and better care for patients.
Although the deferment of elective operations is never ideal, fewer were deferred this winter than in previous years, which should surely be welcomed. I am certain that the situation will further improve over the coming years. It is important to remember that we have a record of continuous investment in the NHS, even though we have been faced with extraordinarily difficult economic circumstances. The Department of Health’s budget has been protected since 2010 and continues to rise. We can spend more on the NHS only when we have a strong economy, which is something that we clearly would not have under Labour. The numbers speak for themselves: our investment in the NHS will rise from £101 billion in 2015 to £120 billion by 2020. Research from the Nuffield Trust shows that the UK spends well above the EU average.
I must welcome the Government’s multi-million-pound investment in Southport District Hospital over this winter. I was delighted when Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust was granted an additional £1.326 million in funding to help to cope with winter pressures. Southport Hospital and the wider health system has prepared earlier and more extensively than ever before for winter this year, with a focus on securing the right numbers of doctors and nurses and increasing bed availability, as well as making sure that there is strong social and community care support available to help to discharge patients from hospital quickly.
The extra funding was announced as part of a £337 million immediate funding boost for NHS hospitals this winter in the recent Budget, which is in addition to the extra £2.8 billion of investment over the next two years. This was, of course, welcome news for Southport patients and residents. We all want to know that the NHS is there for us and our families whenever we need it. I am pleased that the Government have given the NHS extra support at this critical time of year, when cold weather and flu can increase pressures on hard-working hospital staff.
One of my constituents recently contacted me to tell me about the excellent treatment that his elderly mother had received at Southport Hospital over the Christmas period, after she suffered a serious health scare. His mother and his family were unanimous in their praise for the paramedics who brought her to hospital, the nurses who treated her with unparalleled kindness, and the doctors who sought to get her back to full health as soon as they possibly could. His mother said of her treatment that
“we couldn’t have asked for more.”
It is my absolute pleasure to put on record their sincere thanks to my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, whose brief now includes social care. I am sure that he will make a success of that job as he has done in health.
It is ultimately thanks to our strong economy that we can make this extra investment in the NHS. Polls show that the NHS is the institution that makes us most proud—