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Tuesday, 09 January 2018

Anger as minister says 'seats are available' for patients without hospital beds

Written by Harriet Line and Richard Wheeler

A health minister provoked shock in the Commons after saying there are "seats available" in hospitals when beds are not.

Opposition MPs reacted angrily when Philip Dunne made the remark in response to being told how patients were forced to sleep on the floor.

Mr Dunne also apologised to people who have had their operations postponed as the NHS in England struggles to cope with mounting winter pressures.

Labour's Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen) said one of her constituents had taken photographs of people "sleeping on the floor" in a hospital.

She said: "These were poorly people in chairs waiting for hours, not being given a bed or a trolley.

"What I didn't hear in his response was an apology, is now the time for the minister to apologise to those affected?"

Mr Dunne (pictured) replied: "(Ms Brabin) will have heard last week the apology from the Secretary of State to those patients who are having operations postponed, and I absolutely am prepared to apologise today to those patients who are not able to be treated as quickly as we would like them to.

"There are seats available in most hospitals where beds are not available and I can't comment individually what happened in her case but I agree with her it's not acceptable."

The exchange occurred after Labour secured an urgent question in the Commons and challenged the Government to explain its response to the pressures placed on the NHS this winter.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth accused Jeremy Hunt of "pleading for a promotion" in Downing Street rather than facing questions, with Mr Dunne deputising for the Health Secretary.

Shadow health minister Justin Madders, in a statement outside the Commons, said of Mr Dunne's reference to seats: "This is an appalling and ignorant remark from a minister entirely out of touch with the reality of the NHS winter crisis.

"Placing sick patients in chairs because of acute bed shortages is clearly not acceptable in the 21st century."

Mr Dunne earlier defended the Government's response this winter, citing increased pressure and demand due to the ageing population and the weather.

He also said £50 million of the £337 million winter pressures fund announced in November has been kept in reserve with a view to handing it out this month in the event of "particular pressures" which emerge.

On cancelled operations, Mr Dunne said: "We don't know that operations are cancelled, there's been a few thus far.

"Procedures and treatments are being deferred, it won't become apparent until after this period has finished as to how many do actually end up being cancelled.

"So it's not possible to calculate the financial impact on any of the trusts where deferral is taking place."

Mr Dunne went on: "We have a crisis in winter of some kind or another every year.

"(Mr Ashworth) will have been in Downing Street in 2009/10 at a time, as it happens, the shadow health secretary chose not to try to take advantage of the near-pandemic that existed at the time in flu as he recognised these were operational pressures on the NHS, and it was not down to him to make party political point-scoring, unlike, unfortunately, (Mr Ashworth) has chosen to do."

Mr Dunne said elective procedures were previously cancelled within hours of operations taking place, adding more notice is now given.

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