Theresa May acknowledges incidents of 'unacceptable practice' in NHS

11 January 2017 5:30PM

Theresa May said there had been a "small number of incidents of unacceptable practice" in the NHS as she sought to defend the Government's handling of problems in the health service.

During Prime Minister's Questions, the Prime Minister acknowledged the system was under pressure but said the Government had committed extra money to the NHS.

"We acknowledge that there are pressures on the health service, there are always extra pressures on the NHS in the winter, but we have the added pressures of the ageing population and the growing complex needs of the population," she said.

Mrs May said the Government was standing by the four-hour target for A&E, which says 95% of patients must be dealt with within that time frame, after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested earlier in the week he may water it down.

That target has not been met by NHS hospitals across England since the summer of 2015.

Mrs May also called the Red Cross' description of a "humanitarian crisis" in the NHS as "irresponsible and overblown".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Mrs May of being "in denial" and failing to listen to organisations including the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) which have written to the Prime Minister saying the service is under severe pressure.


Mrs May said: "The Government has put extra funding into the health service ... 2,500 more people are treated within four hours every day in the National Health Service - that's because of the Government putting in extra funding and the hard work of medical professionals

"But I also say it's not just a question of targets. We continue to have a commitment, as the Health Secretary has made clear, to the four-hour target, but it's about ensuring people are provided with the appropriate care for them and the best possible care for them in their circumstances."

Mr Corbyn recounted how a woman called Sian who works in the NHS and has a 22-month-old nephew saw him treated on two plastic chairs pushed together with a blanket because there were no beds.

He said: "Does the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary think this is an acceptable way of treating a 22-month-old?"

Mrs May replied: "I accept there have been a small number of incidents where unacceptable practices have taken place. We don't want those things to happen, but what matters is that the NHS looks into issues where there are unacceptable incidents that have taken place and then learns lessons from them."

She said over the few weeks around Christmas there was a single day when more people were treated within A&E than "had ever happened before".

She added: "This is the reality of the National Health Service."

Mr Corbyn said more money for social care must be brought in so people are not forced to stay too long in hospital when they are ready to leave.

Mrs May said: "We have put extra money into social care. He talks about delayed discharges - there are some local authorities working with their health service locally where there are virtually no delayed discharges. Half of the delayed discharges are in only 24 local authority areas. What does that tell us? It tells us it's not just about funding, it's about best practice.

Figures out on Tuesday showed record numbers of people have experienced long waits in A&E.

Waits of more than 12 hours among elderly people have more than doubled in two years, according to the NHS Digital data.

Long waits among those aged 70 and over went from 34,088 in 2013/14 to 88,252 in 2015/16.

Among all ages, there were 185,017 waits of 12 hours or more in 2015/16 - up from 157,895 the year before and 87,213 in 2013/14.

Separate figures form NHS Improvement, obtained by the BBC, showed that more than 18,000 patients waited longer than four hours for a bed, with 485 waiting more than 12 hours - treble the number for the whole of January last year.

Earlier, the head of the RCP said the NHS was dealing with its worst ever winter crisis.

Asked how things compared with previous years, Professor Jane Dacre told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "My fellows and members say that it is worse. They are reporting to me that it is the worst that they have ever seen and that they are feeling disempowered and demotivated by finding it very difficult to know what to do about it.

"Things have come to a head over the last week because there are reports from our fellows and members - and we have 30,000 fellows and members across the country - that the pressures are beginning to be unbearable.

"There are patients in hospital who are waiting in corridors. We have heard reports of some hospitals where they have allocated a consultant to be the corridor consultant to look after the patients that can't find beds. That's unacceptable."

On Tuesday night, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said nurses on the front line had reported that patients are waiting up to 23 hours in hospital corridors across the UK.

It said nurses were reporting "serious concerns over the quality of the care they can provide, in what for many are the worst conditions they have ever experienced".

Mrs May told Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb she would be happy to meet a cross-party group of MPs looking to establish an NHS and care convention to work out a long-term funding solution for the health service.

Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association's council, said: "The Government is wilfully ignoring the scale of the crisis in our NHS. Trying to play down the pressure that services are under shows the Prime Minister is out of touch with patients and frontline staff who are working flat out under impossible circumstances.

"Theresa May says she wants a shared society that works for everyone but is in denial about one of the important issues facing our society today – how to secure the future of our health service, which is in a constant state of crisis.

"Winter pressures are inevitable but we should be able to create a health service that can deal with the inevitable. To do this we need a government that takes the issue seriously, that addresses the funding, capacity and recruitment issues facing the NHS and social care year in, year out, but which are compounded during the winter months."

Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: "We are sadly becoming immune to the inadequate responses of our Prime Minister.

"It is truly shocking that our nation's leader chooses to ignore a unified message from multiple respected bodies. The Prime Minister continues to use isolated statistics to articulate a jaundiced interpretation of the truth."

A senior Labour source said the party would not back the cross-party convention proposed by Mr Lamb, which has won the support of figures including former health secretary Alan Milburn and Labour select committee chairs Meg Hillier, Frank Field and Clive Betts.

"The question of a cross-party convention could be used by the Government and others to kick the issue into the long grass," said the Labour source. "We are not interested in a cross-party convention, but we are happy to talk to anybody about the crisis in the NHS.

"What we want to happen right now is for the Government to fund social care and fund the NHS in the way that is absolutely clearly essential."