Questions to the Prime Minister
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is nice to get such a warm welcome, and may I wish all Members, as well as all members of staff in the House, a happy new year?
I hope the whole House will join me—I am sure it will—in paying tribute to 22- year-old Lance Corporal Scott Hetherington, who died in a “non-combat” incident in Iraq last Monday. I am sure the whole House will also join in sending its heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of seven-year-old Katie Rough, who tragically died in York earlier this week. I think it is right that we send condolences to her family.
Last week, 485 people in England spent more than 12 hours on trolleys in hospital corridors. The Red Cross described this as a “humanitarian crisis”. I called on the Prime Minister to come to Parliament on Monday, but she did not—she sent the Health Secretary. But does she agree with him that the best way to solve the crisis of the four-hour wait is to fiddle the figures so that people are not seen to be waiting so long on trolleys in NHS hospitals?
The Prime Minister
First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman in sending our condolences to the family of Lance Corporal Hetherington, who, as he said, died in a non-combat incident in Iraq? From everything I have seen and read about Lance Corporal Hetherington, he was a very fine young man. He delighted in being in the armed forces, and we are proud that such a fine young man was in our armed forces. I also join the right hon. Gentleman in expressing condolences to the family and friends of little Katie, who died so tragically.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the pressures on the NHS, and we acknowledge that there are pressures on the National Health Service. There are always extra pressures on the NHS during the winter but, of course, we have at the moment those added pressures of the ageing population and the growing complex needs of the population. He also refers to the British Red Cross’s term, “humanitarian crisis.” I have to say to him that I think we have all seen humanitarian crises around the world, and to use that description of a National Health Service that last year saw 2.5 million more people treated in accident and emergency than six years ago was irresponsible and overblown.
Some 1.8 million people had to wait longer than four hours in A&E departments last year. The Prime Minister might not like what the Red Cross said, but on the same day the British Medical Association said that
“conditions in hospitals across the country are reaching a dangerous level.”
The Royal College of Nursing has said that NHS conditions are the worst ever. The Royal College of Physicians has told the Prime Minister that the NHS is
“under-funded, under-doctored and overstretched.”
If she will not listen to the Red Cross, who will she listen to?
The Prime Minister
I have said to the right hon. Gentleman that I of course acknowledge that there are pressures on the National Health Service. The Government have put extra funding into the National Health Service. The fact is that we are seeing more people being treated in our NHS: 2,500 more people are treated within four hours every day in the National Health Service because of the Government putting in extra funding and because of the hard work of medical professionals in our National Health Service. It is not just a question of targets for the health service, although we continue to have a commitment to the four-hour target, as the Health Secretary has made clear. It is a question of making sure that people are provided with the appropriate care for them, and the best possible care for them in their circumstances.
The right hon. Lady seems to be in some degree of denial about this. She will not listen to professional organisations that have spent their whole lifetimes doing their best for the NHS, but will she listen to Sian, who works for the NHS? She has a 22-month old nephew. He went into hospital, but there was no bed. He was treated on two plastic chairs pushed together with a blanket. Sian says that
“one of the nurses told my sister that it’s always like this nowadays”.
She says to us all:
“Surely we should strive to do better than this.”
Do the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary think that is an acceptable way to treat a 22-month-old child in need of help?
The Prime Minister
I accept that there have been a small number of incidents in which unacceptable practices have taken place. We do not want those things to happen, but what matters is how you deal with them, which is why it is so important that the NHS looks into the issues when unacceptable incidents have taken place and learns lessons from them. I come back to the point that I was making earlier: the right hon. Gentleman talks about the hard-working healthcare professionals, like Sian, in the National Health Service, and indeed we should be grateful for all those who are working in the NHS, but on the Tuesday after Christmas we saw the busiest day ever in the National Health Service, and over the few weeks around Christmas we saw the day on which more people were treated in accident and emergency within four hours than ever before. That is the reality of our National Health Service.
We all thank NHS staff and we all praise NHS staff, but the Prime Minister’s Government are proposing, through sustainability and transformation, to cut one third of the beds in all of our hospitals in the very near future. On Monday, she spoke about mental health and doing more to help people, particularly young people, with those conditions, which I welcome, except that last night the BBC revealed that, over five years, there had been an 89% increase in young people with mental health issues having to go to A&E departments. Does she not agree that the £1.25 billion committed to child and adolescent mental health in 2015 should have been ring-fenced rather than used as a resource to be raided to plug other holes in other budgets in the NHS?
The Prime Minister
If we look at what is happening with mental health treatment in the national health service, we see 1,400 more people every day accessing mental health services. When I spoke about this issue on Monday, I said that there is of course more for us to do—this is not a problem that will be resolved overnight. I have set out ways in which we will see an improvement in the services in relation to mental health, but it is about the appropriate care for the individual. As I mentioned earlier, that is not just about accident and emergency. When I was in Aldershot on Monday, I spoke to service users with mental health problems who said that they did not want to go to A&E. The provision of alternative services has meant that the A&E locally has seen its numbers stabilising rather than going up. It is about the appropriate care for the individual. We want to see that good practice spread across the whole country.
Nobody wants people with mental health conditions to go to A&E departments—the A&E departments do not want them to go there. Under this Government, there are 6,000 fewer nurses and 400 fewer doctors working in mental health. It is obvious that these people will go somewhere to try to get help when they are in a desperate situation. Our NHS is under huge pressure. Much of that is caused by cuts to social care, which the Royal College of Physicians says
“are pushing more people into our hospitals and trapping them there for longer.”
Will the Prime Minister do what my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) has called for and bring forward now the extra £700 million allocated in 2019 and put it into social care so that we do not have this problem of people staying too long in hospital when they should be cared for by a social care system?
The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman asked me those questions in the last PMQs before Christmas. [Interruption.] He may find it difficult to believe that somebody will say the same thing that they said a few weeks ago, but we have put extra money into social care. In the medium term, we are ensuring that best practice is spread across the country. He talks about delayed discharges. Some local authorities, which work with their health service locally, have virtually no delayed discharges. Some 50%—half of the delayed discharges—are in only 24 local authority areas. What does that tell us? It tells us that it is about not just funding, but best practice. If he comes back to me and talks to me about funding again, he should think on this: we can only fund social care and the NHS if we have a strong economy, and we will only have that with the Conservatives.
I am sorry to have to bring the Prime Minister back to the subject of social care, which I raised before Christmas. The reason I did so, and will continue to do so, is that she has not addressed the problem. The Government have cut £4.6 billion from the social care budget. The King’s Fund says that there is a social care funding gap of almost £2 billion this year.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said that she wanted to create a “shared society”. Well, we certainly have that: more people sharing hospital corridors on trolleys; more people sharing waiting areas in A&E departments; and more people sharing in the anxiety created by this Government. Our NHS is in crisis, but the Prime Minister is in denial. May I suggest to her that, on the economic question, she should cancel the corporate tax cuts, and spend the money where it is needed—on people in desperate need in social care and in our hospitals?
The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman talks about a crisis. I suggest he listens to the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), a former Labour Health Minister, who said that, with Labour,
“It’s always about ‘crisis…the NHS is on its knees’… We’ve got to be a bit more grown up about this.”
And he talks to me about restoring the cuts in corporation tax. The Labour party has already spent that money eight times. The last thing the NHS needs is a cheque from Labour that bounces. The only way that we can ensure that we have funding for the National Health Service is with a strong economy. Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman proved that he is not only incompetent, but that he would destroy our economy, and that would devastate our national health service.