I have received an open letter from the Labour candidate for Wycombe about the action we are taking to help address the pressures on the NHS in the constituency.
The full text of my response can be found below:
Thank you for your campaign email about the NHS. I do not usually help my partisan opponents by responding to their open letters: it is a diversion from serving Wycombe residents. Exceptionally, I am replying with some wider points to correct some of the claims you have made, and which may help you run a campaign worthy of local people.
In your recent interview with Wycombe Sound, I understand you said you moved from London to Wycombe, but I have been unable to find you on the electoral roll. Could you please confirm the location of your permanent home – is it in London, or in the Wycombe constituency? I would be grateful if you could provide me with your postcode in the constituency, so that I can confirm you are on the electoral roll.
As you ought to know, NHS England is independent of backbenchers and ministers. This is set out in the seventh principal of the NHS Constitution. Government creates the framework within which the NHS operates and then the majority of decisions are taken by the NHS locally and by patients with their clinicians. You can learn more about our NHS’ Constitution here:
The Government is providing historic levels of funding for our NHS and is committed to investing in our health and public services properly. The Government will continue to support the NHS to tackle the elective backlog, deliver the NHS Long-Term Plan and ensure the NHS has the resources needed to recover from the impact of Covid-19. Despite the appalling financial circumstances we inherited from your Party, NHS spending has increased every year since 2010. Locally, I am proud to have played my part in forcing a transformation from the high-mortality care we had in Bucks after years of Labour misgovernment. I will elaborate that story on another occasion.
I stood on a manifesto that promised to deliver effective and sustainable workforce planning in our NHS. The Government is on track to deliver its manifesto commitment of 26,000 more primary care staff to help improve patient access to appointments and reduce the Covid-19 backlogs. There were over 18,200 more people working in General Practice in March 2022 compared to March 2019, and nearly 30,000 overall. Separately, there are over 34,170 more doctors and over 44,820 more nurses working in the NHS since 2010 which I am sure you know is a record number of staff compared to staff numbers under any Labour Government.
On 22 September 2022, the Government published “Our Plan for Patients”. As part of this strategy, the Government committed to changing elements of the NHS pension scheme to help retain doctors, nurses and other senior NHS staff, and to increase capacity. Building on actions set out in Our Plan for Patients, the Government has now launched a consultation on changes to the NHS Pension Scheme, to retain experienced NHS clinicians and remove the barriers to staff returning from retirement, such as the 20,000 former NHS staff who returned to support the NHS at the height of the pandemic.
Wycombe Hospital was built in the 1960s and is crucial in serving some of the most deprived communities in the county. I am aware of the site’s structural issues (affecting, as you may wish to know, not just the hospital tower) and I am resolute in supporting Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust in addressing these issues. I have been in direct contact with the Health Secretary to explore ways in which the Trust can be supported to ensure it has suitable facilities to offer modern healthcare to all and I will have further meetings with him on the subject.
I understand ambulance services are strained across the country, and the pressure on South Central Ambulance Service is felt acutely in Wycombe. The Government is working flat-out to reduce ambulance waiting times and has taken strong action to prepare the NHS for this winter. This objective is backed by a plan to train and deploy more paramedics, and Health and Education England has been mandated to double the number of graduates accepted. Furthermore, the Government has agreed a £30 million auxiliary contract with St John Ambulance to provide surge capacity of at least 5,000 hours per month to help bring down ambulance response times.
The problems facing the NHS in Wycombe are felt acutely in the provision of face-to-face GP appointments. The Government announced £1.5 billion in 2020 to create an additional 50 million GP appointments by 2024. In the Autumn Statement, the Government announced an additional £8 billion of funding for the NHS in 2024-5, including an additional £3.3 billion in each of 2023-24 and 2024-25 to support the NHS in England. This will enable rapid action to improve emergency, elective, and primary care including GP services.
All this amounts to around 10 per cent more appointments per working day than in April 2019.
Only in the last day has the Health Secretary announced £200 million targeted at discharging patients who are medically fit but stuck in hospital. This will free up beds for patients from A&E wards, reduce pressure on emergency departments, and speed up ambulance handovers. I meet regularly with our NHS and Bucks Council and I am happy to say that they are proactive in this regard, implementing plans for step-down care as required.
I note that Wes Streeting, your Shadow Health Spokesperson, recently raised the issue of NHS reform but Shadow Cabinet Minister Dr Allin-Khan repeatedly failed to support him on the Today programme. I also note your leader’s statements about your party’s intentions to restrain spending. I think the public in Wycombe and nationally will want you and your Party to make your minds up about whether you intend to spend a great deal more money, or not, and where it is coming from when taxes are at historic highs. And I think they will want you to agree amongst yourselves whether you wish to deliver reform and what it might be.
Moreover, I note your Leader’s recent readoption of a willingness to use private healthcare to serve NHS patients. If this means a return to a Blairite embrace of the private healthcare sector, I hope you will make clear that you will not be making spurious allegations of NHS privatisation against the Conservatives.
In Wycombe, the last four elections have had as a leading issue A&E provision at Wycombe Hospital. I have always chosen to be honest about it, saying that there can be only one contemporary A&E to serve the people of High Wycombe and Aylesbury, and we are not likely to see it moved from Stoke Mandeville, which is in the centre of the county. I have laid out how we are better served by our first-rate local services for heart conditions and stroke plus the Urgent Treatment Centre (which I campaigned for) than we would be if we reverted to an old-style A&E giving the treatments of the past.
Since you are not likely to have followed the last election in Wycombe, you seem unlikely to know that by the final hustings, even the Labour candidate was forced to join the other candidates in adopting the truth of my position when he confessed that his pledge to return A&E was just a political campaign. I expect one of your activists can supply a video. May I invite you to state at an early opportunity that my position on A&E at Wycombe Hospital is now and has long been the correct one and that you will be supporting me, not alarming and dividing our community unnecessarily in pursuit of votes?
I would also draw your attention to the first adjournment debate of the present parliament, in which I raised electoral corruption in Wycombe:
The main parties in Wycombe, plus Wycombe Independents, have had long-standing constructive relations on issues of mutual concern, like fighting electoral corruption, so if you would like to meet my agent of over 30 years’ experience to discuss the veracity of my remarks, or have introductions to other parties’ figures with decades of local experience, please let me know and I will be glad to put you in touch. In due course, I will be asking you to match my actions to ensure we have a clean and legal campaign by all parties.
I hope this is helpful. As I indicated at the start, I will not reply to further open letters from you. Instead, I look forward to our debates during the campaign. I am delighted to see from your letterhead you appreciate the value of an experienced, local voice for Wycombe. This is, of course, an argument that local people should vote for me over you.
On a lighter note, I was pleased to see the photographs from your trip to West Wycombe hill to locate yourself in the constituency. You may like to know my home was in the background of some of them and just out of shot in others.