Worcester’s MP, Robin Walker, secured a meeting with the Health Secretary on his first day back in Parliament to address concerns about recent pressures at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s Emergency Department. The Health Secretary has provided extra help and support to the 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.

Last week whilst Parliament was in recess, Robin raised these serious local concerns with the Health Secretary after constituents had contacted him regarding long waits at A&E, and asked for a meeting at his earliest convenience to put the case for extra resources. The meeting was arranged for Monday with Karen Lumley, the MP for Redditch in attendance.

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 put in 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.

Yesterday ahead of a statement to the Commons about NHS Winter Pressures, the Secretary of State spent time with Robin Walker and Karen Lumley to hear from them 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.

Both the MPs pressed the case for investment in more capacity at the County’s hospitals, something Robin has been campaigning for since 2014, 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.

In his statement which included additional investment in mental health, Jeremy Hunt announced further measures to help with the situation nationally, including funding for more GPs to help with triage at A&Es and was at pains to point out that extra help would be provided to Worcestershire.

As a Minister Robin was unable to speak in response to the statement but he supported Karen Lumley when she spoke up for the hospitals in the County and welcomed the Secretary of State’s encouraging response to her.

Karen Lumley, the MP for Redditch asked:

“As my right hon. Friend has mentioned, the A&E departments at the Worcestershire royal hospital and the Alexandra hospital in Redditch have been under huge pressure over the past few weeks. Can he reassure patients at both our hospitals that everything possible is being done to alleviate the problem? While I am grateful for the measures that have been introduced, what our trust really needs is agreement on a £29 million bid to increase capacity, and I urge my right hon. Friend to consider that as a matter of urgency.”

The Health Secretary replied: 

“I thank my hon. Friend for her interest—on behalf of her constituents—in what has been happening. Subject to staffing, a new ward will be opened at the trust next week, and a new chief executive will arrive in the spring. We recognise the need for capital spending to increase capacity at both the Alex and the royal, and we will consider that bid sympathetically.”

In another reply he confirmed: “Obviously, when it comes to the allocation of capital, we prioritise any projects that will help us to improve the situation in A&E departments and reduce the stresses.”

Commenting on these exchanges and his earlier meeting, Robin said:

“I welcome the clear intention to fund capital expansion at Worcester and Redditch and the clear and urgent focus on improving the situation at our local hospitals but I am deeply 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. When our trust was put into special measures last year I said that patient safety must be paramount and I have taken up the concerns of all the constituents who have contacted me over the last few weeks both with the Trust and with the Department of Health.”

“I am glad we have a new management team coming into the trust and look forward to working with them to turn things around. It is reassuring to know that help is in place from NHS improvement and the Trust Development Authority and that the extra nursing and consultant support that has been put in place will be there for as long as it is needed. Whilst many constituents have contacted me about their concerns, almost all have been at pains to praise the dedication and hard work of the staff at our hospital. I have heard countless stories of the selflessness and good care from staff in Worcester. I want to thank them for their incredible hard work in very difficult circumstances and assure them that I will be doing all I can to make sure they get the better facilities and support that they deserve.”

“Clearly extra capacity at the hospitals is only one part of a bigger solution to the massive challenge of a rising population of elderly and vulnerable people and we need to see investment in primary care, community care, social care and many other areas. I would like to see all of the NHS trusts in Worcestershire working together to improve the situation and I will be contacting both the Clinical Commissioning Groups and the Health and Care Trust, who are already providing essential support to the hospital, to see how they can take up some of the new powers on offer from the Department of Health. Worcestershire is a first class county and I want to make sure that next time our health service is singled out it is for praise.”

Notes to editors:

For the full statement and exchanges following it see:

https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-01-09/debates/A0C1CB51-3E77-4FD0-87D9-AD36C2C11CE5/MentalHealthAndNHSPerformance

The Secretary of State’s statement to the Commons included the following section on Winter Pressures:

“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.”

“This winter, the NHS has made more extensive preparations than ever before. We started the run-up to the winter period with over 1,600 more doctors and 3,000 more nurses than just a year ago, bringing the total increase since 2010 to 11,400 more doctors and 11,200 more hospital nurses. The NHS allocated £400 million to local health systems for winter preparedness; it nationally assured the winter plans of every trust; it launched the largest ever flu vaccination programme, with more than 13 million people already vaccinated; and it bolstered support outside A&Es, with 12,000 additional GP sessions offered over the festive period.”

“The result has been that this winter has already seen days when A&Es have treated a record number of people within four hours, and there have been fewer serious incidents declared than many expected. As Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers, said, although there have been serious problems at some trusts, the system as a whole is doing slightly better than last year.”

“However, there are indeed a number of trusts where the situation has been extremely fragile. All of last week’s A&E diverts happened in 19 trusts, of which four are in special measures. The most recent statistics show that nearly three quarters of trolley waits occurred in just two trusts. In Worcestershire, in particular, there have been a number of unacceptably long trolley waits, and the media have reported two deaths of patients in A&E.”

“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; working with the Care Quality Commission on rapid re-inspection where this has the potential to re-open community health and social care bed capacity; and working with community trusts and community nursing teams to speed up discharge. Taken together, these actions will give the NHS the flexibility to take further measures as and when appropriate at a local level.”

“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. Nowhere outside the UK commits to all patients to sort out any urgent health need within four hours. Only four other countries—New Zealand, Sweden, Australia and Canada—have similar national standards, which are generally less stringent than ours. This Government are committed to maintaining and delivering that vital four-hour commitment to patients, but since it was announced in 2000, there are nearly 9 million more visits to our A&Es, up to 30% of which NHS England estimates do not need to be made, and the tide is continuing to rise. 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. As Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s medical director for acute care, has said, no country in the world has a standard for all health problems, however small, and if we are to protect services for the most vulnerable, nor can we.”

“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.”

For details of the recent risk summit at the WRH see:

https://bromsgrovestandard.co.uk/news/risk-summit-held-to-ensure-patient-safety-is-not-compromised-at-worcestershire-hospitals-after-cqc-raises-concerns/

For details of the Future of Acute Hospital Services Review and consultation see:

http://www.worcsfuturehospitals.co.uk/

For details of the proposed management changes at the Trust see:

http://www.worcsacute.nhs.uk/news/trust-secures-world-class-leader-for-worcestershire/

For Robin’s Parliamentary Questions backing the appointment of new management and the expansion of the WRH see:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160105/debtext/160105-0001.htm#160105-0001.htm_spnew96

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm151013/debtext/151013-0001.htm#151013-0001.htm_spnew69

For Robin’s previous campaigns on the WRH see:

https://www.walker4worcester.com/worcester-mp-praises-dedication-compassion-and-teamwork-of-hospital-staff-ahead-of-inspection/

https://www.walker4worcester.com/safety-must-be-number-one-focus-for-local-nhs-addressing-safety-means-fixing-capacity/

https://www.walker4worcester.com/walker-welcomes-ministerial-meeting-to-address-worcestershires-hospital-challenges-presses-minister-for-permanent-appointments-to-local-trust/

https://www.walker4worcester.com/walker-welcomes-boost-for-mental-health-more-emergency-support-for-hospitals/

https://www.walker4worcester.com/walker-calls-for-further-upgrades-at-royal-hospital/

https://www.walker4worcester.com/walker-leads-push-to-upgrade-worcesters-ae/

https://www.walker4worcester.com/articles/view_detail.php?id=4577789b9af9f2f64cce489953500dd8