North East MPs have hit out after it was announced the region will receive none of a new £250m fund to help hospitals this winter.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday announced plans to give an extra quarter of a billion pounds to ease the burden on trusts, which have seen emergency admissions in the coldest months soar by almost a third in the last decade.
But of the 53 hospital trusts across the UK that will benefit, just 12 are in the North, and none are in the North East - a fact the Department of Health has suggested we should be thankful for.
“It is important to provide the NHS with greater support during the winter period, particulalrly at a time when the scale of the challenege facing the NHS and the wider health and care system is becoming increasingly clear,” Mr Hunt said. “It is essential that even when demand is at its highest, patients get the excellent support they need and rightly expect.”
But apparently that sentiment does not extend to the North East, with the region’s politicians and health chiefs speculating that trusts could have been penalised for not failing.
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson, who served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to public health minister Dawn Primarolo in the last government, said the news the region would receive none of the money would likely leave residents worried that frontline services might not be getting the support they need.
“Last winter our A&E departments were under strain, with patient numbers up 20% compared to a few years ago, and there’s no reason to think this trend won’t continue,” Ms Hodgson said.
“For the Government to just ignore the North East’s needs is therefore extremely short-sighted, and I hope this doesn’t lead to an increase in waiting times or, in the worst cases, avoidable deaths and suffering.”
Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell was similarly troubled by the announcement, saying that while she was glad to see extra funding being directed to healthcare, the omission of this entire region made it seem like the powers in Westminster had forgotten about us.
“It’s welcome that the Government has finally woken up to the fact that A&E has been on the brink of crisis as a result of social care cuts and frontline job losses,” she said.
“But it’s deeply concerning that not one penny of the £250m in funding announced will be allocated to the NHS in the North East, and no explanation for this was given in the Health Secretary’s statement.
“Does he think hospitals in our region don’t face additional pressures in winter, or is this yet another example of the Coalition forgetting the North East even exists?’
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the trusts that are to receive money had been assessed by watchdog Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority and “both local and national partners” as being the 53 areas most in need of the money, and where patients would see the greatest benefits.
She said that far from a negative the North East should take its omission as a vote of confidence that the region’s health authorities were doing well.
Trusts to receive the cash include the scandal-hit Mid Staffordshire and North Cumbria authorities, which receive £3.7m and almost £2.3m respectively.
While the largest government grants - £12.8m, £10.2m and £10m go to Barts in London, Oxford and Leicester.