Thank you to those who have contacted me about the pressures facing the NHS this winter.
I share your concern about the number of challenges facing the health service this year - winter is always a difficult time of year for health services across the world and I know that this year is no exception.
In order to help prepare the NHS for the winter, in the Spring Budget, the Chancellor pledged £100 million investment to support A&E departments throughout the country. The Government subsequently invested a further £337 million in December.
This money has, amongst other achievements, helped the NHS open over 1,000 more acute hospital beds since the end of November and install GP streaming services in 91% of A&E departments. Despite very challenging circumstances, these preparations have been of great help to the health service, whose staff have offered lifesaving, compassionate care at the hardest time of the year. I would like to echo Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England's National Medical Director and say that this winter has seen some of the best and most thorough preparations on record.
It is of course extremely disappointing to see NHS England postpone non-urgent (and I do understand that for those who have been waiting no operation feels non-urgent) operations this January. I understand that this emergency action was taken by the NHS National Emergency Pressures Panel, following sustained pressure on the NHS over Christmas. I do welcome the fact that the panel did all they could to give patients significant notice of deferral, rather than cancelling operations with only a few hours' notice as has happened in previous years.
I do note that the Leicester Mercury is reporting that UHL has now signalled that their worst pressure is over:
I would also like to take this opportunity to assure you that the Government is committed to a tax-funded NHS, which is free at the point of use. As Ministers plan a new relationship with the EU, they have made clear that they will continue to ensure that the NHS is given the priority it deserves.
Despite tight public finances, the Government is actively supporting the NHS's own plan for the future, the Five Year Forward View, and is increasing NHS spending by at least £8 billion in real terms over the next five years. This will ensure that, by the end of this Parliament, everyone will be able to access GP services in the evening and at weekends.
At the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced an additional programme of capital investment, further to the £425 million committed at the Spring Budget in March 2017. This investment will be worth £3.5 billion and will help NHS organisations deliver significant improvements to local services, improve performance, and significantly increase NHS efficiency.
On top of this, to secure the best value for taxpayers, tough new financial controls have been introduced to cut down on waste, including introducing caps for agency staff and management consultants, and introducing central procurement rules. I am pleased that the limits on agency spending have saved the NHS roughly £1 billion between 2014 and 2016. It is also encouraging that the NHS believes there is significantly more progress that can still be made.