NHS Winter Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 10th January 2018.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 4:03 pm, 10th January 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. He is absolutely right. Those working on the frontline have made many statements about just how acute the problem is. Bed numbers have dropped rapidly in recent years. The worry is that under STPs, even more beds may be lost.

The Health Secretary today denied there is a crisis, but he admitted it on Twitter, where he asked of Tony Blair,

“does he not remember his own regular NHS winter crises?”

If the House wants to make a comparison with Tony Blair, I will help it: in the last winter under Tony Blair, between October and December 2006, one in 50 patients spent longer than four hours in A&E. In November, under this Health Secretary, one in 10 did.

Of course, behind every single figure is a vulnerable patient who is being let down—a patient like 87-year-old Esme Thomas, who, according to the BBC, waited 22 hours to be admitted to a ward at Weston General Hospital, or the patients at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, who, as we have heard, were photographed lying on the floor, some still attached to drips. If the best that we—one of the wealthiest nations in the world—can offer people who are ill is an uncomfortable metal chair, something has gone badly wrong. What do the Government say to the nurse who told “ITV News” that there had been times when she had spent whole days treating patients in the hospital car park? Those stories should shame the Government into action.

Of course, it is not just those attending hospital who are suffering; so are those who are not able to go to hospital at all: 55,000 operations have been cancelled this month. When asked about this, the Prime Minister said that it was all “part of the plan.” If it was all part of the plan, why were the operations arranged in the first place? This is not a plan; it is a shambles.

The human cost of this crisis is devastating. Even before the worst of the winter had reached us, a one-year-old baby with a hole in her heart had her life-saving operation cancelled five times. Her parents were told that their daughter could go into cardiac arrest during the operation, so I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that they must have gone through in preparing themselves for the operation five times. Or what about the 12-year-old autistic girl from my constituency whose operation to remove her tonsils has been postponed? She has had at least eight bouts of infection in the past year, and because of her autism, the delay to her operation has caused her anxiety. It was a huge deal to build her up for the operation after her pre-operative assessment, particularly given the prospect of spending a night in hospital, but after the cancellation, she is anxious that when she gets her new operation date, that will be cancelled as well. If leaving these children anxious and in pain was part of the plan, it is a plan this Government should be ashamed of.

Across a whole range of indicators the NHS has experienced its worst performance since records began, and that was before we headed into this winter. Let us be clear: I do not for a second hold the people who work on the frontline responsible for this. Indeed, it is only through their dedication that the health service keeps going, despite the best efforts of this Government to destroy staff morale—whether an entire generation of junior doctors alienated, the next generation of nurses deterred from entering the profession by tuition fees, or the thousands of staff up and down the country who are frankly fed up of rota gaps, pay restraints and meaningless platitudes from this Government.

Only this afternoon we hear that the Care Quality Commission is postponing routine inspections, presumably because it knows a winter crisis is on. This is an unprecedented step that sends a huge signal to the Government that this is not just normal winter pressures.

Let us hear from some of those staff working on the frontline. A&E doctor Dr Adrian Harrop said the claims that the NHS had never been better prepared were “misleading, disingenuous nonsense”. He also said:

“The system I’ve been working in in recent days and weeks seems under-resourced, underfunded and understaffed.”

Tracy Bullock, chief executive of Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“I’m 34 years in and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

These are honest, hard-working professionals—the lifeblood of the NHS—and Conservative Members know full well we could have repeated dozens of similar comments from NHS staff, because at the bottom of all this is the unescapable, indisputable fact that under this Government the NHS is in the middle of the longest and deepest financial squeeze in its entire history, and it is a squeeze that, as we have heard today, is having devastating consequences.

We have warned time and again that, unless early and substantial action was taken, we faced another severe winter crisis, and that is exactly where we are today. We have had an apology but no action from the Government. Patients deserve to know when this crisis will be solved and when their cancelled operations are going to take place, and this country deserves a Government fit to run the NHS. I commend this motion to the House.