I was hoping to speak in the Debate on the Queen’s Speech yesterday on the subject of Health, but was unfortunately unable to. This is what I was hoping to say:
Mr Speaker, thank you for calling me to speak in this vital debate at a time when the NHS is facing some of its greatest challenges. A & E waiting times have increased drastically, while the Secretary of State closes local A & Es and patients are finding it harder to book appointments with their GPs. Yet, the Government has buried its head in the sand and failed to make a single mention of the NHS or health in its Queen’s Speech. The Government clearly has no solution to the problems created through its ill thought through plans and reorganisation.
Under the last Labour government, A & E waiting times had drastically fallen. After the Prime Minister’s costly reorganisation, patients are having to wait much longer. Over the last 12 months, over a million people waited over 4 hours to be seen in A and E. Hospital A & E departments have missed the waiting time target for the last 46 weeks in a row. What we knew would be a winter crisis has continued on into a summer crisis with the overall A & E targets still been missed week after week. On top of this, attendances at hospital A & E departments increased by 633,000 in the first three years of this Government. Yet despite this deepening crisis, the Secretary of State for Health is closing and downgrading A & Es around the country, putting not only the remaining A & Es already under huge pressure, but also, patients at risk.
In my constituency, Ealing Hospital A & E is to be downgraded alongside neighbouring Charing Cross Hospital, both effectively being closed as blue-light ambulances will not be received , while the A & Es at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals are facing complete closure. In fact, the A & E at Hammersmith hospital is set to be closed on 10th September.
With the closure of A & Es at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals, and with Ealing and Charing Cross hospitals seemingly unable to receive blue-light ambulances in North-West London, Northwick Park will be under even more strain as patients are sent there for emergency treatment.
Northwick Park is already overburdened and is one of the worst-performing A & Es in the country. It will simply not be able to cope with the four other local A & Es closing and will be unable to accept blue-light ambulances. Journey times for patients will be longer and they face the risk of travelling elsewhere if the ambulance is turned away. That will be the difference between life and death for emergency patients—an unacceptable situation.
The crisis in A & Es is deepening while The Government fails to address these issues and pushes on with closures and downgrades regardless of their potentially devastating impact on local patients.
The crisis in A & E, with the number waiting over 4 hours at its highest for a decade, has been exacerbated by the current problems with access to GPs. The lack of GP access was even highlighted as a key reason for the pressures on A & Es by the Government’s own review of emergency care. Yet, the Government continues to put pressure on GPs and fails to address any of these issues in the Queen’s Speech.
In a recent survey by the Patients Association, 60% of people said they waited longer than 48 hours to see a GP. Over a quarter of the public say that last time they tried to book a GP appointment, they couldn’t get one in the same week and nearly three quarters of GPs say waiting times for appointments are only going to get worse.
The previous Labour Government had transformed GP access through a combination of investment and reform. By 2010, the vast majority of patients could get a GP appointment within 48 hours.
However, the Prime Minister has made it harder to see your GP: he scrapped Labour’s guarantee of a GP appointment in 48 hours as the Tory-led Government deemed this “no longer a priority” and cut funding for Labour’s GP extended opening hours scheme.
While the Government allow the current untenable situation to worsen, Labour have made commitments to guarantee access to GPs within 48 hours.
It is also clear that the Government has made short-term, politically motivated decisions concerning the NHS’ future. My constituency, Ealing Southall, has the second highest rate of TB in the country. To beat the disease we need two things: high quality services which I’m proud to say we have, and to go into the community and actively seek people who are ill. This doesn’t cost a lot, and if we invest in the short-term we will save significant sums of money through reduced cases in the long-term.
So, whilst I welcome Public Health England’s efforts to develop their Collaborative TB Strategy for England, it is critical that it comes with additional investment to make sure that we reduce rates of TB as quickly as possible, thus saving money, not to mention lives and human suffering. We need a long-term view to funding health in this country.
The Government’s silence in the Queen’s Speech and on the issue generally prove that they cannot be trusted with the NHS. Their disastrous reorganisation and poorly thought through legislation such as Clause 119, which will enable the Secretary of State to close more A&Es and hospitals in areas where they are necessary to the health of local patients, are clearly damaging the quality of the service of patients across the country. This Tory-led Government clearly cannot be trusted with the NHS.