NHS Winter Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 10th January 2018.

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Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 4:11 pm, 10th January 2018

Happy new year to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We have had a good debate this afternoon with some well-informed—as Karin Smyth put it—contributions from both sides.

The NHS is a service that we are all immensely proud of; we can agree on that. Even during the challenging winter period it continues to deliver overwhelmingly safe and effective care to thousands of our constituents, and we should never lose sight of that. We have heard examples of that today, including from my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman, who spoke with her usual calm about the triage model she saw working well in her area when she had to go to hospital over the holiday period. My hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy was among many Members who visited the NHS over the recess period and he spoke, as well he might, and as well as he usually does, about the safe care he saw being delivered.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and before him the Prime Minister, said earlier, we have done more preparation for winter this year than ever before, planning earlier to make sure the NHS is better prepared. More than that, we have put in the money, in the form of an additional £337 million for winter pressures and an additional £l billion for the social care system this year. As the Public Health Minister, I am proud of our flu vaccination programme, already the most comprehensive in Europe, which has been extended even further. This was planning ahead.

We have also allocated £100 million of capital funding to help hospitals set up GP streaming systems at their A&Es, reaching 91% coverage by the end of November. This, too, was planning ahead; they did not just appear overnight. And for the first time ever, people were able to access GPs nationally for urgent appointments from 8 am to 8 pm seven days a week over the holiday period.

Of course, there were additional pressures this year: very cold spells in December, a sharp uptick in flu and respiratory conditions, and higher hospitalisations from confirmed cases of flu than in the peak of winter last year.