I have been contacted by several constituents recently with concerns about the NHS. I can understand this anxiety at such a difficult time for it when, despite the fantastic work it does, problems still arise and are highlighted.

Firstly, I would like to pay tribute to the thousands of NHS staff who have been working tirelessly over the Christmas and New Year period to treat the record numbers of patients who have used our hospitals, both in my constituency and across the country. 

Demand has been unprecedented.  Some hospitals have reported that A&E attendances are up to 30% higher than last winter, and a record number of people have been treated within the four hour target. I can assure you that the Government is determined to protect the service through an extremely challenging period and ensure its future sustainability.   We have been able to achieve this through the most extensive winter preparations than ever before:

  • £400 million allocated to local health systems for winter preparedness

  • 1,600 more doctors and 3,000 more nurses on our wards than just a year ago

  • detailed winter plans from every trust assured by the NHS leadership

  • the largest ever winter flu vaccination programme with more than 13 million people already vaccinated

  • and 12,000 additional GP sessions offered over the critical festive period.

As a consequence of this preparation and, most importantly, the hard work of frontline staff, the system overall is coping and even performing slightly better than last year. Early in December, it treated a record number of patients within four hours and we are seeing 2,500 more patients within the four hour standard every single day compared with 2010.

However, I am aware that there are a small number of Trusts where the situation has been extremely fragileand NHS England is considering a series of further measures to be taken forward on a temporary basis at the discretion of local clinical leaders. Taken together, these actions will give the NHS additional flexibility to take further measures, if appropriate, at a local level.

In the long term though, it is clear that we all need to have an honest discussion about the purpose of A&E departments.  We have recruited 1200 more A&E doctors since 2010 and the number of A&E consultants has gone up by 500.  However, NHS England estimates that up to 30% of A&E visits do not need to be made.  NHS England and NHS Improvement will continue to explore ways to ensure that at least some of the patients who do not need to be in our A&Es can be given good, alternative options, building on progress under way with a streaming policy in the NHS England A&E plan.

In relation to GP services, the Government remains resolute in its aim to improve access to general practice through its £2.5 billion backed GP Forward View – a 14% real terms increase. 

In addition, a £1 billion Primary Care Transformation Fund will deliver GP premises fit for the future.  The investment will support better technologies such as online tools and appointment booking, with up to £45 million extra to support online consultation systems and other modern working practices. 

This investment will be supplemented by a £500 million Sustainability and Transformation package to help GP practices add to the workforce and tackle workload, and additional funds from local clinical commissioning groups. I am hoping that these changes will also help address the present shortages of GPs, and emphasise how important they are to the vitality of the NHS.

I do recognise the pressure on social care in particular, and agree that increased resource, both from local taxation and central Government, is going to be required to meet the needs of a population in which over 85s will increase in number by more than 100% between 2012-32. However it is not simply a resource issue, and increasing efforts to integrate social care with other elements in the NHS must continue. Areas genuinely vary in how well they do this, regardless of financial issues.

The Government is working closely with NHS England, NHS Improvement and local government to provide a wide ranging package of support to help local areas improve transfers out of hospital and reduce delays.

I hope this reassures you that the Government remains committed to ensuring that the NHS offers the safest, highest-quality care available anywhere in the world.