Tuesday, 10 June 2014

MPs talk in Parliament about the A&Es crisis in West London

7:28 pm



Karen Buck (Westminster North, Labour)

It is often in the specific and the particular that we understand how public policy is most effective, far more than in mission statements, PowerPoint presentations and the sub-sections of the legislation that we pass. That is particularly true of the NHS. We have heard two striking examples of that already in the contributions from my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd and Gordon Birtwistle talking about social care. It is also true of the reconfiguration and change in the health service, which I shall address in the few minutes available to me.

In many respects we understand across the piece what changes need to take place, yet we find that so many of the changes that have taken place at a higher level of public policy, particularly those implemented by the Government through the Health and Social Care Act 2012, have made it harder rather than easier to bring about the change that we need to deliver. In London in particular, an exceptionally complex environment, we saw that set out very clearly by the King’s Fund in its report last year, which made it clear that the Government’s reorganisation of the health service, carried out at considerable expense, had made it harder rather than easier to deliver the fundamental changes that we need by fragmenting its structure and undermining its capacity to introduce strategic leadership.

In north-west London, which we have already heard mentioned today, we are facing one of the most fundamental changes in the delivery of health care since the establishment of the national health service. The “Shaping a healthier future” agenda is rooted in a set of principles with which most of us could agree. We want to reduce the number of accident and emergency attendances and, in particular, to reduce the number of accident and emergency admissions when patients can be better cared for elsewhere, particularly within primary and community services, and we want to reduce the length of stay, particularly for elderly patients who would be better and much happier to be cared for with appropriate social care support in their own homes. Those are undeniable facts that are supported by the general principle that in many cases the higher level of acute care is more efficaciously provided in larger and more specialist units. Those things go together and they are worthy objectives.

It is in the detail of the implementation that we have a major problem. NHS England is apparently seeking to have a total of 780,000 fewer patients admitted to A and E over the course of the next two years. The “Shaping a healthier future” agenda translates into a reduction of 15% in the number of A and E admissions to be achieved in north-west London. As the King’s Fund’s health economist John Appleby has said, that is “not realistic or feasible”. The problem is not that it is not desirable or that we do not want to see it achieved over time, but that we are in the middle of a period of rising demand for A and E and the capacity simply is not there, either elsewhere in the acute hospitals sector or in community and primary care services.

Only a few months ago, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, at the heart of the “Shaping a healthier future” agenda, said:

“We are yet to see any impact of primary care and community Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention…schemes and therefore are planning to maintain the level of emergency care we provided”

over the course of this winter. So, a hospital is saying that it cannot rely on the primary and community services being in place to divert people from A and E, yet almost in the same week the Secretary of State’s letter confirmed that the closure of the accident and emergency units at Hammersmith and Charing Cross, as we understand them, will go ahead as soon as possible. We now have a date in September, and his letter stated that

“the process to date has already taken 4 years causing understandable local concern”.

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Andy Slaughter (Shadow Minister (Justice); Hammersmith, Labour)

My hon. Friend has written a devastating critique to the new chief executive at Imperial about the fact that Hammersmith A and E in my constituency as well as other A and Es are being closed before there is appropriate provision to replace them. I would not hold my breath for a reply if I were her. I am still waiting for one to the letter I wrote to the clinical commissioning group on 26 April on the same subject of failure to provide primary care.

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Karen Buck (Westminster North, Labour)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who reinforces my exact point.

Since the Secretary of State’s letter and the decision to proceed with the Hammersmith andCharing Cross closures, it has been reported in the Evening Standard that Imperial is having to use winter pressure beds routinely to cope with patients displaced by the planned A and E closures, admitting that there are “risks” of over-crowding, and warning that ill patients will have to spend longer in ambulances. This is a demand for winter pressure beds in the middle of the summer. The expectation is therefore that there is already insufficient capacity years before the construction of a planned new and improved A and E unit at Imperial hospital. The closures are going ahead and Imperial clearly cannot cope. An Imperial official said:

“We have extra acute beds at St Mary’s Hospital, normally used during the busy winter period to ensure we can quickly admit those patients”

in need. That is fine, but what will happen if and when we have a winter crisis or simply during the additional winter pressures? That capacity will not be available to help deal with them.

None of this is meant to suggest that there are not fine people in clinical and managerial practice focusing their attention on ensuring that services are in place to assist with that transition, but the scale of the challenge appears to be beyond what can be achieved realistically within the timetable. In the middle of all this—and no doubt connected to it—there came halfway through the year a letter from the west London clinical commissioning groups announcing that they have

“made an important decision to put funding into a central budget…£139 million…which means CCGs with a surplus will be supporting those with a deficit…We also agreed to explore how to bring together commissioning of primary care services across organisational boundaries”.

That seems to me to be perilously close to the end of clinical commissioning groups as far as we understand them. My understanding was that clinical commissioning groups were designed to be rooted in their local communities, to work in effective local partnerships and to reflect the local service providers, particularly primary care service providers and patients, at a local level. That has all gone with the wind in west London and I am extremely worried about it.

I am all the more worried because the whole transition programme is predicated on the delivery of improved social care, and it is social care with which we are now struggling to cope. In my local authority area, 1,000 fewer residents are getting social care than in 2010, and there will be a further £2.9 million cut this year. It is no surprise that the chief financial officer at Imperial trust, Bill Shields, has said:

“The cynic in me says”

that the proposal to take money away from the national health service to fund social care

“is a way of taking money from the NHS and passing it on to the local authority…this will allow them to make good the cliff edge they have been through in the last few years and rebuild the local government public finances.”

It would also mean

“a significant real-terms reduction in NHS income…going forward”.

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Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 9 June 2014, c334)
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Andy Slaughter (Shadow Minister (Justice); Hammersmith, Labour)

My hon. Friend makes a point about this panicked attempt to find more money in the primary care budgets and slosh it around west London at any consultation, and that is exactly the issue on which I am still waiting for an answer. This is chaos in the health service and is a reaction to closure programmes that have been carried out on financial grounds and that have now reduced the health service in west London to a chaotic and dangerous state.

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Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 9 June 2014, c335)
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Karen Buck (Westminster North, Labour)

It is extremely worrying because the whole thing is shrouded in a lack of transparency and a lack of effective communication about what is going on. The local authority is cutting its own social care funding and needs money to fill its black hole, whereas the trust at Imperial says that that is exactly what it is worried about. It says it is concerned about the transfer of money because that might not give it the increased local community services that would allow it to reduce emergency A and E admissions, which is what we want. In fact, those things are so far from being effectively integrated in a common purpose that the different sectors of the health service appear to be at war with each other financially, if not in any other way.

The problem is that the fragmentation and delay caused by the reorganisation in the national health service since 2010 have undermined what should have been a sensible method of progressing and building up community services to reduce the pressure on the acute sector. Meanwhile, today and in the coming weeks my constituents will find that their hospital is at capacity but is expected to deal with the extra demand from the Hammersmith and Charing Cross accident and emergency closures, whereas the constituents of my hon. Friend Mr Slaughter face the loss of their accident and emergency units without any appropriate provision. It is a shambles, I am extremely concerned, and I hope it is not too late to ensure that we can put something in place to prevent a true winter crisis this winter that would be of the Government’s own making.



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