The most recent statistics on A&E have rightly caused uproar. They show our A&E departments are in a dire state. At least fourteen hospitals have declared ‘major incident’ status and closed A&E doors, leaving patients waiting in corridors and dumped in car parks and tents.
We have faced our own problems locally. At Stepping Hill, where I have spent my own fair share of time at A&E, only around 72% of people were seen within four hours in the last two weeks of December. That leaves it one of the worst in the country, not just Greater Manchester.
I don’t for a minute blame the staff at Stepping Hill. There are several systemic factors making this A&E crisis one of the worst in several decades. Swingeing cuts to adult social care have left vulnerable people with nowhere else to go but A&E, and the scrapping of the guaranteed right to see a GP within 48 hours under David Cameron has pushed people into Accident and Emergency with fairly minor ailments. They simply don’t know where else to go.
Even the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, admitted to the House of Commons that he takes his own children straight to A&E because he knows he will be seen quicker. You really could not make it up.
This week we saw the unedifying sight of the Health Secretary e-mailing NHS bosses and giving them a few hours to provide some bullet points on how to solve the crisis. He should be providing strong leadership at this difficult time, not asking for back-of-a-fag-packet quick fix solutions. He gave those in charge of front line services just four hours to relieve the pressure on A&E services, showing a stunning lack of planning and leadership.
As a Shadow Health Minister, I fully back our plan to bring the NHS back to the standard we left it in with a £2.5 billion a year ‘Time to Care fund’ to pay for new staff – including 20,000 more nurses to help relieve the growing strain on A&E.
In 2010, David Cameron promised to prioritise and protect the NHS. It is now clear, after a dangerous slump in A&E performance in recent months, that he has done little to hold up this promise.
If anything, he has put it in intensive care.