I have had a lot of correspondence following recent problems with the local healthcare services and I am well aware of the particular strain on the health services in our county. It is disappointing to see Worcestershire in the headlines for such negative reasons and as a resident of the constituency myself, I share your concern for effective local healthcare. A situation wherein special measures have to be put in place by an Acute Trust is never satisfactory, and I know that local hospitals and their staff are working tirelessly around the clock to provide the best service they can in these testing conditions. I am making significant efforts here in Westminster, in conjunction with my fellow Worcestershire MPs, to put pressure on the Department of Health to address this problem in a way that matches its potential severity. In early January Robin Walker, MP for Worcester, and Karen Lumley, MP for Redditch, had a meeting with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt following pressures at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital's Emergency Department and at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch (the two hospitals in their constituencies). I spoke to Robin before this meeting and provided him with some of my constituents case studies to help inform this discussion.
The Health Secretary has since provided extra help and support to the Worcester Royal Hospital for the winter period and has said he will look favourably on a bid for £29 million of capital funding for expansion of facilities. As you are no doubt aware, the Worcester Royal was built far too small for local needs and we need to continue to expand its operations despite the physical constraints.
Since Christmas, two additional wards have been made available at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital to cope with the increase in emergency patients, and plans are now in place to deliver a third as soon as staffing can be arranged for it. I was in Parliament to hear Jeremy Hunt's response to a question from Karen Lumley in which he confirmed that subject to staffing, a new ward will be opened at the trust, and a new Chief Executive will arrive in the spring. At the same time he announced further measures to help with the situation nationally, including funding for more GPs to help with triage at A&Es.
On both the national and local scale, NHS services certainly need to develop in a way that best deals with the increasing demand. I believe, however, that the criticism levelled at the Government with regard to funding and perceived cuts often misinterprets the nature of this problem. There is a general view in the country that the Government is cutting NHS services; this is categorically not the case. As a result of rapidly increasing life expectancies and the NHS' own ability to treat a wider range of illnesses and injuries, demand for NHS services in the UK is growing every year. The statistics belie the argument that the Government is cutting services: there are 11,400 more doctors and 11,200 more nurses than there were in 2010 (contributing to a 9% hospital medical workforce rise between August 2010 and August 2016); the NHS budget is being increased every year, including a large 3.4% increase in real terms in 2015/16 alone; and health spending as a percentage of GDP has risen from less than 5% at the turn of the century to just under 8% now.
There are a million more operations per year than there were in 2010 and the total NHS budget is now more than £117 billion for England alone, up from £102 billion in 2011/12. To put this in context, when the NHS was founded in the 1940s the total NHS budget was about £15 billion in today’s money. Every government of every political persuasion has increased spending on the NHS.
The 3.4% increase in budget in 2015/2016 was large, but A&E attendances increased by 5.4% in the same period. Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) will go some way to address this discrepancy by lowering hospital referrals through system efficiency improvements, and the planned £10 billion stimulus package by 2020/21 will help services expand further. If you have not already participated in the local STP consultation for Worcestershire, I encourage you to do so. The consultation will end on March 30th and more information can be found at: www.hacw.nhs.uk/yourconversation/