Lots of constituents have been contacting me about the #NHSClapForAction campaign.

I share your concern that our health service is under enormous pressure this winter. Waiting lists stand at a record six million, over 312,000 patients have waited longer than a year for treatment, operations have been cancelled and ambulance and A&E waiting times have reached record highs.

While the pandemic has taken its toll, the reality is that 11 years of underfunding, cuts and mismanagement have weakened the health service and left it exposed just as COVID-19 hit. Despite the remarkable efforts of health and care staff, a decade of short-term planning by the Government has left services struggling to cope with chronic staff shortages.

The Government has outlined additional funding to address waiting lists, yet it has refused to guarantee that it will be sufficient to clear NHS backlogs. Its decision to raise taxes to pay for care will hit working households. Meanwhile, there is still no plan to address chronic staff shortages.

We need a plan to address NHS backlogs and bring down waiting lists. Key to this is a long-term strategy to recruit, train and retain the staff our health service needs to deliver safe and high-quality care. Ministers must set out a credible long-term vision to put social care on an equal footing with the NHS, improve access and ensure all older and disabled people get the right support when and where they need it.

The latest wave of COVID-19 is adding to pressures to our health service; several NHS trusts have declared critical incidents amid growing staff absences and rising pressures due to COVID-19, with some trusts pausing non-urgent surgery. Yet the Prime Minister’s attempt to assure the public we can “ride out” this latest wave demonstrates the Government has no plan to address the immediate pressures facing our health service.

We need a strategy to ensure the NHS and social care sector can run effectively through this latest wave. Ministers must publish the latest data on hospitalisations and staff absence rates, as well as up to date advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), so that the public can be reassured they are genuinely following the data and scientific advice.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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