09 JAN 2018

The NHS and winter pressures

I share the concerns of those who have written to me about the NHS and the perceptions in the media. But the NHS has been fully funded according to its own requests and they write as if we have never had a winter crisis in the NHS. We have had a winter crisis of some kind or another every year and this year's is increased by the rising number of flu cases. As was said yesterday in the House of Commons by a member of the Opposition, "the normal pressures have been added to this winter by freezing weather and influenza."

However, in 2009/10 the Conservative shadow Health Secretary chose not to try to take advantage of the then near flu pandemic at the time because he recognised that there were operational pressures on the NHS and it was not down to him to score party political points. At that time, tens of thousands of procedures were cancelled to provide capacity to cope with the emergency at the front doors of our hospitals, many of them at the last minute. So, the approach we have taken of cancelling operations in advance is a much more humane and sensible way to do things and it provides much more opportunity for hospitals to cope with the pressures that are coming through the door.

Despite tight public finances, the Government has actively supported the NHS's own plan for the future. The total spent by the Department of Health in England is about £145 billion. We are increasing NHS spending by at least £8 billion in real terms over the next five years.

Over the next three years, the Government will provide the NHS with an additional £2.8 billion resource funding. By the end of last year, the NHS had received £335 million to manage winter pressures; a further £1.6 billion will be invested in 2018-19, and in 2019-20, £900 million will be provided to help address future issues. Furthermore, the Government is currently offering local councils an additional £2 billion to help them fund adult social care services in a time of great pressure.

Here in Oxfordshire, the snapshot report of Delayed Discharges of Care (so-called bed blockers) for the end of December shows a massive reduction compared with May 2017. Delayed Discharges of Care can contribute to the problems faced by the NHS at this time. This is in line with the trajectory agreed with the Department of Health and I hope you will join me in congratulating our health workers for achieving this significant improvement.

This improvement has been achieved through recruitment of more staff and commissioning extra packages of care and interim nursing home beds to mitigate pressure. So more people are leaving hospital with a care package and that is driving the reduction we have seen, together with tightening up and streamlining assessment and other internal processes. The reduction in delays has been achieved by getting the right resources to those patients who need them to return home, and not due to people going home without the support they need.

I believe fully in the NHS and its values, and I would like to assure you that the Government is committed to a tax-funded NHS, free at the point of use, wherever and whenever you need it. That is why it is increasing NHS spending. Ministers will continue to ensure that the NHS is given the priority it deserves.

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