NHS Winter Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:25 pm on 10th January 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 3:25 pm, 10th January 2018

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but I fear that she is mistaken because the people most likely to attend A&E are the under-19s. The over-65s represent about 20% of attendances at A&E but, following their attendance, the vast majority require admission to hospital, so they are in a slightly different category.

Those who are awaiting admission after they have been seen are the group who are waiting on the trolleys in A&E. People are waiting for those patients to be moved on to the wards so that the ambulances can be freed up and those patients treated. I have a solution to suggest, about which I met the Secretary of State earlier this week following my work in A&E over the winter period, when I observed ambulance crew waiting next to trolleys with their patients. They could not leave until they had properly handed over their patients.

It is really important that patients’ care is handed over properly, but equally we need those ambulances back out on the streets to collect the patients who are waiting at home. We could do much better if we cohorted the patients. For example, if three ambulances came in with six ambulance crew members on board, one ambulance crew could look after the patients while the other two went back out to see more patients. It is not all about money; some of it is about the inventive use of staff to create safe and efficient protocols.

I want finally to talk about the postponement of operations, which is very upsetting when someone has waited a long time for an operation and psyched themselves up for the pain and distress they know they will experience, and they may be nervous and fearful.

We have several choices. We could run hospitals at a very low capacity all summer—which is hugely expensive—so that there is a lot of free capacity ready for the winter; we could say that we will not do as much elective work over the winter, but then we might cancel operations that do not need to be cancelled—we may be giving more notice, but patients might have been able to have their operation; or we tell people that we will plan their operation but there is a possibility that if the winter is acutely busy, it will need to be postponed. None of those choices is ideal; all have pros and cons. We need an adult, cross-party discussion about the best way; otherwise, whichever option is chosen by the Government of whichever party is in power, the other side will criticise.

As many hon. Members on both sides of the House have suggested, we need to take the politics out of the health service, recognise that the vast majority of patients receive excellent care from the health service, which is doing more than ever, and consider together how we improve the areas that need improvement.