It is the responsibility of local NHS commissioners to plan and arrange adequate A and E health services according to the needs of their local populations. Attendances at hospital A and E departments are reimbursed through mandatory national tariffs.
Is the Minister aware that my constituents in Huddersfield are very pleased with the improvements to their A and E services over recent years? They put that down to fewer people going to A and E because they have NHS Direct to take the pressure off A and E, and to the guarantee of being seen within four hours, and having the right to complain pretty vigorously—as we do in Huddersfield—if that does not happen. Are not the measures that the Government are introducing simply going to make A and E impossible again?
May I reassure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents that they will be just as pleased with the responses that they receive from a 111 line, where professional advice and help will be given to people who need to contact it about their health needs? May I also reassure his constituents on the question of four-hour targets? The target that was introduced caused distortions; it was a political target. We are relying on clinical decisions and activity to ensure that people are seen as quickly and relevantly as possible.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in addition to the proper funding of A and E departments, it is also important to take steps to manage the demand on those departments? In particular in urban areas, that means that commissioners should accept the responsibility to look for improvements in the delivery of primary care so that patients have more easy access to less urgent care in the primary care context, thus reducing the demand on A and E departments.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is, of course, not only a question of correctly identifying those people who should use A and E; the other assistance given through the health service is also important. We need a first-class and relevant out-of-hours service as well.