Easing hospital logjams key to solving NHS crisis, MP says

A "focused effort" on fixing adult social care will help the crisis-stricken NHS get back on its feet in the face of unprecedented winter pressures, a senior Black Country MP said today.

Hospitals across the country are struggling to discharge patients [Jeff Moore/PA Wire]
Hospitals across the country are struggling to discharge patients [Jeff Moore/PA Wire]

James Morris said the logjams blighting health services would only by improve by reducing hospital discharge times.

The Halesowen & Rowley Regis MP called on ministers to prioritise the matter, saying better integration between local authorities and the NHS was "the only way" to provide a long term solution.

It comes after an Express & Star investigation revealed the full extent of the NHS crisis through the eyes of those who work in it.

It featured frontline staff speaking about the intense strain of working in a system broken by unmanageable demand – with one senior doctor describing an emergency department as being "like a warzone".

The comments were brought up during a session of the Health and Social Care Committee, which Mr Morris sits on.

It saw Chris Hopson, chief strategy officer for NHS England, say that the only way to free up bed space in hospitals was to ensure patients were discharged more quickly.

Halesowen & Rowley Regis MP James Morris

Mr Morris, who served as a health minister in Boris Johnson's government, told the Star: "Faster discharge is fundamental if we are not going to have a repeat of the kind of winter pressures we are facing now.

"Bed occupancy is too high, with some people sitting there who are capable of being discharged. This is causing the backing up of problems all the way to the front end of A&E and with ambulance waiting times.

"There needs to be a focused effort if the NHS is to get back on track. This is going to take more investment, but the only way to solve the problem in the medium to long term is to have better integration between health and social care."

Mr Morris said a £200m government scheme to facilitate faster discharge – essentially the NHS buying up capacity in care homes – was a "good start", and that the new integrated care systems implemented in areas including the Black Country had a "major role" to play in improving health and social care integration.

"This is a big challenge between the NHS and local authorities," he said.

"There needs to be much tighter integration between local authorities and acute trusts to make sure care packages are in place so people can leave hospital. Only then can we make real progress."

Mr Morris also said it was vital that long-standing problems with recruiting and retaining staff in the care sector were addressed.

"We need to improve the status of care as a profession," he said. "It is very much seen as second tier, when actually people working in the care sector are doing an incredibly vital job that needs to be recognised.

"The situation now is that providers are finding difficulty in recruitment. For this to change more investment is clearly needed in the care workforce."

Mr Morris said that by 2024-25 the Government would be spending "north of £180bn" on health and social care, a figure he said "dwarfs any other public expenditure".

He also said a long term NHS workforce plan would make health care a more attractive sector to work in.

Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden

Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the Express & Star's investigation had done "a great public service" by showing a "comprehensive picture" of the crisis facing the NHS.

He said: "The NHS is at the core of our national social contract. Its foundation took away the financial fear that illness had previously brought to families. It’s part of what our country stands for yet today it is not working as it should.

"I reject the defeatism that says the NHS model is finished and that we have to change to some kind of insurance system used overseas. The idea of health care paid out general taxation and free at the point of use is still the right one."

Mr McFadden said Labour's plan to double the number of training places for doctors and double the number of district nurses – paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax loophole – would help address staff shortages in the NHS.

"The NHS doesn’t just need to be saved – it needs to be renewed for the future," he said. "At the heart of the problem is staffing – there are simply not enough doctors and nurses in the system.

"When Labour left office we had the highest levels of public satisfaction with the NHS ever recorded. The target for a GP appointment was two days not two weeks. And waiting times and lists were much lower than they are today.

"There is no doubt the pandemic added to pressures and waiting lists but it’s not just about the pandemic. We went into the pandemic with waiting lists already at 4 million – far higher than when the Government came in to office.

"We are paying the price for 13 years of stewardship that has left the NHS in its current condition. Turning the situation around will take time but I’m confident that with long term commitment it can be done and that we can have a great and renewed NHS for the future."

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