I have had correspondence from several constituents who are concerned about the actions taken by Worcestershire Acute Healthcare Trust over the Christmas and New Year period and would like to take the opportunity to address these concerns.
On Monday this week Robin Walker, MP for Worcester, together with Karen Lumley, MP for Redditch, had a meeting with the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to address concerns about recent pressures at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital's Emergency Department and at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch. As a fellow Worcestershire MP whose constituents also rely on these hospitals in Robin and Karen's constituencies, I spoke to Robin Walker before this meeting and provided him with some case studies and extracts from recent constituents' correspondence to help inform the discussion.
The Health Secretary has 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. This followed a risk summit at the hospital before Christmas and reports of long waiting times at the Emergency Department particularly over New Year's Day, as well as reports of a number of tragic deaths at the hospital, which are currently under investigation.
Just before Christmas, senior nursing support from NHS Improvement was put into the trust and extra medical wards were opened. Over the weekend more help was supplied from NHS Improvement including management support and additional consultant cover to support discharge from the hospital. Since Christmas two additional wards have been made available at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital to cope with the increase in emergency patients, but plans are now in place to deliver a third as soon as staffing can be arranged for it.
During the meeting, the Secretary of State heard from Robin Walker and Karen Lumley directly about the local situation in Worcestershire's Acute Hospitals. The Health Secretary was joined by Senior Department of Health officials including Dale Bywater, the Regional MD of NHS Improvement, and Kathy McLean, Medical Director at the Trust Development Authority, who chaired the recent Risk Summit.
On behalf of all Worcestershire MPs and residents, Karen and Robin pressed the case for investment in more capacity at the County's hospitals, and urged the Health Secretary to bring forward £29 million of capital expenditure, which is awaiting the outcome of the Future of Acute Hospital Services Review. They pointed to longstanding capacity challenges in the County, and the need to invest in more beds and in the Emergency Department at the Worcestershire Royal to meet them. They were also clear in their praise for staff who have worked incredibly hard throughout the winter and for whom most constituents had nothing but praise. The Health Secretary confirmed he had signed off on the appointment of a new CEO for the Trust.
I was in Parliament on Monday to hear Jeremy Hunt announce further measures to help with the situation nationally, including funding for more GPs to help with triage at A&Es. In response to a question from Karen Lumley in the House of Commons Chamber, Jeremy Hunt confirmed that subject to staffing, a new ward will be opened at the trust next week, and a new Chief Executive will arrive in the spring. He said that he recognises the need for capital spending to increase capacity at both the Alex and Worcester Royal and he will consider that bid sympathetically. He added that when allocating capital, they prioritise any projects that will help improve the situation in A&E departments.
The NHS and local hospitals are frequent topics in my constituency correspondence and in my surgeries. I and my family also rely on these local health services. I wish to assure you that I am in frequent contact with the local Acute Trust which runs the hospitals and the local CCG. I met with the new Executive Chairman of the Acute Trust, Caragh Merrick, before Christmas, and I and the other Worcestershire MPs will be in regular contact with her and her team over the coming weeks and months to monitor the situation.
As the MP for Mid Worcestershire I welcome the clear intention to fund capital expansion at Worcester and the clear and urgent focus on improving the situation at our local hospitals but I am concerned that we should have reached a situation where Worcestershire is at the centre of national concerns about hospital safety. I never want to see this happen again.