The head of the Commons health committee has warned that NHS reforms aimed at improving patient safety will fail without an emergency rescue package being included in the budget.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Totnes, and Chair of the Health Select Committee in the House of Commons, has called on the government to announce serious investment in next week’s crucial political announcement.
Wollaston has urged her own party’s chancellor, Philip Hammond, to reverse Conservative party policy.
If this does not occur, Wollaston believes that the public will turn against the way that the government is running the health service, and that this could have crucial electoral consequences.
While the Conservative government and prime minister Theresa May have claimed that the NHS is on a sustainable footing, Wollaston is extremely critical of this assertion.
Wollatson points out that the health service has failed to keep up with the soaring level of demand for services.
And she believes that extra funding for social care should be a particular priority, while local NHS renewal plans are also important.
Wollaston suggests that the Sustainability and Transformation Programme has been inadequately funded, and that this will seriously impact on outcomes in the longer term.
“They don’t have the money to make the transformations before they make the cuts, and that is undermining them before they get going. That unrealistic funding, together with an unrealistic timetable, means they look like they are implementing cuts, which means they will then lose public support. If we do not have the funding to put in place the transformation of services, we will see these plans fail.”
Wollaston believes that the NHS is currently experiencing what she described as a perfect storm, with waiting times in Accident and Emergency problematical, yet many patients are unable to leave hospital due to bed-blocking pressures.
“Hospitals can’t admit on to wards, so they cancel routine procedures which are their funding base and end up in spiral of decline, with patients suffering. Bed occupancy rates are at unsustainable levels and we are hearing stories of not only routine, but urgent, surgery being cancelled. There have been two cases in which urgent neurological procedures did not take place, resulting in the deaths of two patients, which is extremely serious.”
The chair of the Commons health committee was also critical of the recent vote to provide £1.2 billion of additional revenue spending to the health service.
Wollaston believes that this position is both unsustainable and untenable.
“This is not allowed, yet this is the third year we have done this,” she said. “Repairs are being put off, shunted down the stream, and the wonderful new community facilities promised are not happening. It is only those facilities that allow the closure of beds, so the public are not seeing the positives of what should happen – they are just seeing a picture of cuts.”