Grant Shapps has said the NHS must do “whatever it needs to do” to deal with the current crisis, including potentially treating patients in hospital car park cabins.
The Business Secretary was asked about the prospect of some patients receiving emergency treatment in temporary modular units under an emergency recovery plan for the health service announced by the Health Secretary.
Mr Shapps told LBC radio on Tuesday: “I think the most important thing is to deal with these backlogs and the pressures that the NHS is under.
“I’m in favour of the NHS doing whatever it needs to do to clear those backlogs and if that means temporary, modular, whatever, or using clinics close to people or whatever else is required, I mean, for heaven’s sake, let’s get on and do those things.
“Anyone looking at this realises that through Covid the NHS built up enormous pressures. It was dealing with one thing primarily, Covid. And having now to go back to all that elective surgery that didn’t happen is putting huge pressure on.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Monday said more physical capacity would be created in and around overcrowded A&E departments “in weeks not months” by using temporary structures.
He admitted emergency care has “not been acceptable in recent weeks” for some patients and staff in England, as he announced an urgent recovery plan for the NHS in the Commons.
The Health Secretary told MPs: “By using modular units, this capacity will be available in weeks, not months.
“And our £50 million investment will focus on modular support this year.”
He said trusts could use their “discretion” on how best to use these units, such as for “discharge lounges”.
Some of the strain on the NHS comes from around 13,000 people occupying hospital beds in England – despite being medically fit to discharge – because they need further care before going home.
Mr Barclay on Tuesday told the Cabinet that the Government is “adding extra temporary wards and buying additional places in care homes to help thousands of people currently stuck in hospital despite being ready to leave”, according to a readout of the meeting.
Meanwhile, Downing Street did not rule out using retired doctors or student nurses to ease the staff shortages in the NHS.
Asked if Rishi Sunak would consider such a move, as done during the pandemic, the Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters: “I think it’s important we obviously consider all options and that work has been taking place in advance of this winter.
“There are obviously significant challenges to that sort of approach and I think we are confident that both the Department of Health and the NHS in England is taking the right steps to do everything possible to mitigate some of these challenges we’re seeing.”