Yesterday Jeremy Hunt made a speech in the House of Commons which was entitled Mental Health and NHS Performance. The speech was 1262 words long of which 248 or 19% covered his opening remarks and the focus on mental health. The rest was dedicated to NHS Performance. In terms of that 80% of the speech the first few words helped to set the context:
“I turn now to the winter. As our most precious public service, the NHS has been under sustained pressure for a number of years. In just six years the number of people aged over 80 has risen by 340,000, and life expectancy has risen by 12 months. As a result, demand is unprecedented. The Tuesday after Christmas was the busiest day in the history of the NHS, and some hospitals are reporting that A&E attendances are up to 30% higher compared with last year. I therefore want to set out how we intend to protect the service through an extremely challenging period and sustain it for the future. First, I pay tribute to staff on the frontline. The 1.3 million NHS staff, alongside another 1.4 million in the social care system, do an incredible job, which is frankly humbling for all of us in this House. An estimated 150,000 medical staff, and many more non-medical staff, worked on Christmas day and new year’s day. They have never worked harder to keep patients safe, and the whole country is in their debt.”
The speech continued referring to the fact that the challenges over this weekend took place across only 19 Trusts of which two experienced particular challenges. He then continues:
“As of this weekend, there are some signs that pressure is easing both in the most distressed trusts and across the system. However, with further cold weather on the way this weekend, a spike in respiratory infections and a rise in flu, there will be further challenges ahead. NHS England and NHS Improvement will also consider a series of further measures that may be taken in particularly distressed systems on a temporary basis at the discretion of local clinical leaders. These may include: temporarily releasing time for GPs to support urgent care work; clinically triaging non-urgent calls to the ambulance service for residents of nursing and residential homes before they are taken to hospital; continuing to suspend elective care, including, where appropriate, suspension of non-urgent outpatient appointments”
It may be my lack of understanding, but in a system which is known to be suffering from a lack of GPs and some people arguing this is having a knock on impact on A&E, redeploying the GPs that are available to support the A&E will surely make matters worse? The same is true of the Ambulance Service. It is this which the Red Cross are suplementing, so if he is to use Paramedics as part of a new Triaging service, will this not add to the problems? The speech then continues:
“However, looking to the future, it is clear we need to have an honest discussion with the public about the purpose of A&E departments…. If we are going to protect our four-hour standard, we need to be clear that it is a promise to sort out all urgent health problems within four hours, but not all health problems, however minor…NHS England and NHS Improvement will continue to explore ways to ensure that at least some of the patients who do not need to be in our A&Es can be given good, alternative options, building on progress under way with a streaming policy in the NHS England A&E plan. In this way, we will be able to improve the patient experience for those with more minor conditions who are currently not seen within four hours, as well as protect the four-hour promise for those who actually need it. Taken together, what I have announced today are plans to support the NHS in a difficult period; and plans for a Government that is ambitious for our NHS, quite simply, to offer the safest, highest-quality care available anywhere, for both mental and physical health. But they will take time to come to fruition, and in the meantime all our thoughts are with NHS and social care staff who are working extremely hard over the winter, and throughout the year, both inside and outside our hospitals. I commend this statement to the House.”
What seems to be missing from the whole of yesterdays speech, bearing in mind he was standing up in front of the MPs who represent the voters from the whole of the country is any reference to how the current problems, even if they are limited to 19 Trusts have caused distress, pain or even just inconvenience to patients. Has Mr Hunt forgotten that he is supposed to be running a service to help patients? Of course it is vital that he acknowledges how hard the staff are working, but the people who are suffering are those waiting on trolleys and waiting to be seen or to be discharged. That speech missed one vital element and it is concerning that Mr Hunt has forgotten why he is in post. Of course the alternative is that he has not made reference to the patients because they have become the new enemy of Jeremy. He is now taking us on as he once did with Junior Doctors?