Wes Streeting – 2022 Speech on Ambulance Services and National Heatwave

The speech made by Wes Streeting, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 13 July 2022.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, but what a disgrace that the Secretary of State is not here. Our NHS is going through the biggest crisis in its history, every ambulance service is on the highest level of alert, patients are forced to wait hours in pain and discomfort, and he is yet to say a word about any of it. The Home Secretary was not at the Home Affairs Committee this morning, and the Health and Social Care Secretary is not here this afternoon. This is not even a Government in office, let alone in power.

One person who is still in office, however, is the Minister. Her boss resigned saying he could not put loyalty above integrity any longer. Well, the Minister obviously made a different choice. Can she say whether any further meetings of Cobra are scheduled beyond the meeting held on Monday? As we saw during the pandemic, public health emergencies require clear communication from Government. Can she tell the House what the consequences of a national heatwave emergency would be for schools, public transport services and other public services, and what guidance will be provided to the general public? What assessment has she made of the suitability of care homes to protect residents from the extreme heat, and what contingencies are in place should further measures be necessary?

Every ambulance service is now on the highest level of alert, so what is the Secretary of State doing about it? The Minister talks about targeted help for ambulance services—she is going to be hitting the phones this week; presumably the Secretary of State is too busy—but, as I think she acknowledged, this is a crisis across the health service. Last month, a crew in the west midlands waited 26 hours outside A&E because clinical staff were not available to hand over to. What are the Government doing to provide additional support to A&Es during this heatwave? These pressures are not new. Average waiting times for stroke and heart attack victims are one hour. Patients in the north-east were told to phone a friend or call a cab rather than rely on emergency services. Is it not the case that, although extreme weather is of course putting further pressure on our emergency services, it is 12 years of Conservative underfunding that has left them unable to cope?

In conclusion, if people such as the Home Secretary and the Health Secretary cannot be bothered to turn up to do their jobs and are not interested in the business of running this country because they are too busy making endorsements for fantasy candidates with far-fetched promises, perhaps it is time they step aside so that Labour can give Britain the fresh start it needs.

Maria Caulfield

Can I say how disappointed I am at the shadow Secretary of State’s response? If he is not happy that a female Minister with over 20 years’ experience in the NHS is able to answer a question on NHS waiting times, I find that very disappointing.

As I said in the debate a few weeks ago, I do not want to bring politics into health because I think it is too important, but if the shadow Secretary of State wants to play politics, I will give him politics. If we look at Wales, where Labour runs the NHS service, we see that the ambulance service and A&E departments are facing exactly the same pressures. Only 51% of red calls in Wales are being seen in eight minutes; the target is 65%. If he looks at the call time for strokes, he will see that only 17% of those people are being seen in time. Those numbers are falling month on month, whereas in England our responses are improving month on month. On the four-hour wait in A&E in Wales, 34.9% of people have been seen within four hours.

Wes Streeting indicated dissent.

Maria Caulfield

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he stood at the Dispatch Box just now and said that Labour would do better. It is not doing better in Labour-run Wales; it actually has either similar response times or worse response times.

I have set out a plan. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman has not read the heatwave plan for England, which was published earlier this year, because he would have the answers there. We are making sure that all NHS trusts are prepared. I am happy to work with each and every Member across this House to make sure that the ambulance service, our A&Es and hospital trusts have the support that they need, but if all he wants to do is play politics, I think that is extremely sad.