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Labour calls for £500m winter bailout fund for the NHS

The NHS needs £500m to shore it up against looming winter pressures, Labour’s shadow health secretary will say today.

Jonathan Ashworth will tell the Labour Party Conference that the investment is required urgently to avoid ‘stumbling’ into another winter crisis.

With 266 operations cancelled every day, Labour is predicting more than 4.3 million patients will be on NHS treatment waiting lists by the end of winter.

Labour said the funding should be used to boost hospital capacity by increasing its workforce, and to facilitate discharge of hospital patients into social care.

But urgent care leaders pointed out that resourcing GP out of hours was equally important to reduce emergency services pressure.

Mr Ashworth will say: ‘Last year Theresa May stuck her head in the sand and refused to give the NHS the money it needed to keep services running properly.’

He will say this pushed staff and services to the brink and cannot be repeated.

He will add: ‘Labour is calling for a comprehensive package of emergency support, including a new £500m winter bailout fund, to urgently be put in place so that patients don’t suffer the same pain as last year all over again.

‘It is not acceptable for the Government to stumble into another NHS winter crisis – they’ve been well warned and need to take action now.’

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘We’ve yet to hear of any concrete plans from the Government on exactly how they plan to stop a repeat of last year and any new injection of cash and resources will of course help ease pressure during the winter.

‘But more importantly, it must tackle the political short-termism that sees the same issues crop up every year, by funding the NHS adequately year-round and by getting to grips with workforce planning.’

Dr Nagpaul added: ‘The NHS is at breaking point because, quite simply, investment isn’t keeping up with demand.’

However, commenting on Labour’s demands, urgent care leads said GP out-of-hours services needed to be recognised for their role in ‘soaking up’ pressure before it reaches A&E.

Chair of out-of-hours cooperative body Urgent Health UK, Dr Simon Abrams, told Pulse: ‘Out-of-hours services soak up many less serious urgent care problems that could easily swamp emergency departments.

He said GP and community services work together to keep frail patients out of hospital, adding: ‘These services need the same level of winter support as other key services if they are to maintain their crucial contribution to urgent healthcare through the winter and all year round.’ 

The BMA has said that the winter crisis is now the ‘year-round norm’ and Pulse revealed that GPs are already being asked not to refer to one trust that declared a ‘black alert’.

To address pressures in emergency care, the Government has invested £100m to put a GP in every A&E by next month – a plan that had previously featured in Labour’s 2015 election manifesto.