As winter approaches, I want to thank you for all you are doing in the run up to what will be a very challenging period for the NHS.
I know frontline staff are working extremely hard - and not just in A&E departments. I see this every week in my visits and shifts on the frontline, including this week at the Royal Brompton Hospital. I thought you might be interested to know some figures which are a true testament to the skill and dedication of our hospital staff.
Our ageing society has meant 1.2 million more people in A&E every year compared to 3 years ago, with nearly 2000 more people every day seen within 4 hours. The average wait to see someone in A&E has been falling steadily – now down from 77 minutes to 33 minutes - and, despite this extra flow through A&E, elective waiting times are stable and the number of people waiting for 14, 26 and 52 weeks continues to fall.
But the big question for all of us as we continue to see more and more people - especially frail older people - in A&E departments is how to deliver better ways to look after people outside hospital. So as well as the short term financial support we have offered the system for this winter, we are looking at the root causes of A&E pressure. Countless A&E departments say the 2 things that would make the biggest difference are better integration with the social care system so it is easier to discharge people, and better primary care alternatives.
With a named GP being introduced for all over 75s from this April alongside a £3.8 billion merger of the Health and Social Care systems from April 2015, I hope we can make progress in dealing with the long term challenges. I appreciate these reforms will take time to have an effect, and in the meantime I want to thank everyone for all your sterling efforts to give the highest standard of care during the winter months.