There is no doubt that the NHS is under unique pressures, with demand going up every year, especially in a county such as Somerset, where we have an increasing ageing population. Somerset is a great place, but many people retire there, which increases the problem.
First and foremost, I want to thank all those working in the NHS in Taunton Deane. The extra £435 million invested in the NHS to deal with winter pressures is to be welcomed, as is the new forward planning. While it is not desirable to have an operation cancelled, the more notice one can have of that, the better. I referred to that earlier; I have personal, family experience of it. Without a doubt, having notice definitely helps.
I shall focus on A&E in particular. The A&E department at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, which is Somerset’s main hospital, has seen 68,000 people through its doors in the last year, which is a huge increase, but there are nine consultants working there and there is 24-hour senior cover. I contacted the chief executive just this week for an update on how the hospital is doing. He reports that it has been extremely busy and that there has been record demand. That has had an impact on waiting time, but the staff in that department and in hospital more widely, as well as the wider community, have been fantastic in their response, often going above and beyond.
There has been much talk today about adequate funding for our health services. While that is important, it is also important to get the right management structures in place. In that respect, I want to highlight and praise Dr Cliff Mann, a senior consultant at Musgrove Park Hospital in the emergency department. He has just been awarded an OBE for his services to emergency medicine. During his time as president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Mann lobbied Government to get changes in staffing and worked hard around education in A&E. He devised a special A&E hub, which is an excellent model. It is working really well at Musgrove and ought to be rolled out further. It brings together in the emergency departments primary care; 24/7 support for mental health issues; a seven-day, 12 hours a day community pharmacy, and a seven-day, 14 hours a day in-house frailty team. I believe that model is working.
To touch on equipment at Musgrove Park Hospital, it is still dealing with a pre-1948 intensive care unit and theatres. There have been redevelopment plans since the 1980s, and we are still waiting. In the autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced a welcome £3.6 billion investment in capital projects of that sort, and I make no bones about fully supporting the campaign to get new theatres at Musgrove. I know many people who would benefit—indeed, members of my own family have recently been treated at the hospital. There is a top-class team working there, producing excellent results, but those staff deserve new and better facilities. I believe Musgrove Park is the only hospital in the south-west without updated theatres, so I ask Ministers to support it.
I applaud the linking of social care with health. That is essential. Somerset County Council faces a very difficult situation in social care, so any help will be welcome. If the council got into the next pilot of retained business rates, that would help its funding and finances and therefore its efforts on social care.
I applaud the Government for their action this winter. Things are much better. There is always more to do, but this Government are right behind the best health service in the world.