Suffolk MP defends government policy following warning that NHS could enter ‘year-round crisis’
The MP for South Suffolk has defended the government’s policy on austerity following the release of a damning report on the state of the NHS.
James Cartlidge MP, who is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said there was a tendency to sensationalise the problems facing the health service.
When asked how he responded to the new report by the British Medical Association (BMA), which found that NHS patients have endured the “worst winter on record”, Mr Cartlidge said the problem was not born out of politics, but a universal increase in demand.
He said: “The core issue is that demand is so much higher [than] it has been before. Record numbers of people are being treated, and it is difficult for the system to grow in proportion to those reported changes in demand.”
Mr Cartlidge added that the increase in pressure was largely down to an ageing population and a rising number of people with complex needs.
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“The common factor is not political,” he said. “The common factor is the pressure. “[These are] problems experienced across Britain and across the world. They come from an incredible achievement in health terms – that brings pressure on the NHS.”
The report by the BMA reveals that A&E attendances, waiting times, trolley waits and bed occupancy levels all increased this year.
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Performance against the four-hour wait target has continued to deteriorate, falling from 87.2% in 2016/17 to 85% in 2017/18.
In March 2018, aggregate performance at all A&Es reached its worst level since records begin in 2010/11, with just 84.6% of patients seen, admitted or discharged within four hours.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said “the time for government action is now”.
“These figures show just how critical the crisis in the NHS has become,” he said. “Congestion and delays are having a profound impact on patients’ experience of the NHS and means frontline staff are left working under the most challenging of conditions.
“This winter once again exposed the limitations of trying to plan and prepare for record levels of demand. Even after cancelling tens of thousands of operations, beds remained full, which shows that you can’t continuously plug gaps by penny pinching and poaching from elsewhere in an overstretched service.
“Our health spending lags behind that of other similar European countries so the government must urgently increase spending to address systemic pressures, and review its long-term strategy for the health service. As the NHS enters a state of year-round crisis - the time for action by government is now.”
However Mr Cartlidge defended the government’s policy on health spending, pointing out the billions invested to date, and the plan to build five new medical schools to train new staff – including one in Chelmsford.
He also pointed out that West Suffolk Hospital recently received an ‘outstanding’ Care Quality Commission rating, while Ipswich and Colchester hospitals are fast improving.
“We are putting huge resources into the NHS,” he said. “We are doing the right thing. It is not just about spending, it is about performance.
“Money is obviously a part of it, but it becomes an excuse for everything. There is this constant pretence where there is this parallel universe where we could have spent more.
“We are now seeking a long-term funding solution for the NHS. The funding will be there but no one should pretend that there is some easy answer to make this pressure go away. I don’t think that there is any merit in misleading people.”
He added that the problems faced by the NHS are not unique to England - with medical trusts run by SNP and Labour-led governments failing across Scotland and Wales.
Despite the report’s findings that more than four in five doctors working on the frontline (82%) said that they felt their place of work was under-resourced, and over half (62%) said that their workload was higher than previous winters, Mr Cartlidge was adament that Britain was not in danger of losing its national health service.
“The NHS is not about to collapse,” he said.
“My constituents care a great deal about the NHS and in most cases they have an overwhelmingly positive experience.
“We are going to have to dig deeper to find the resources [but] it isn’t just about money – it is about leadership and management. It doesn’t happen overnight, I wish it did.”