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Accident and Emergency Departments (Waiting Times)

Volume 556: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2013

10. What estimate he has made of the number of patients who waited longer than four hours for treatment in accident and emergency departments in 2012; and if he will make a statement. (136841)

In 2012, the NHS saw nearly 22 million people in A and E across the country, with 96% seen within four hours, which I am sure the hon. Lady will agree is a great achievement. That means that the A and E clinical quality indicators for high-quality patient care are being met in the NHS.

Last week, the Manchester Evening News reported that more than 1,000 patients had waited more than four hours at A and Es across Greater Manchester in December. I am sure the Minister is well aware of the planned downgrading of services at Trafford general hospital, and I understand that last night the joint health scrutiny committees of Trafford and Manchester agreed that the proposals should be referred to the Secretary of State for decision. Given last month’s alarming figures, will Ministers assure me that in reaching a decision about the future of Trafford general hospital, full account will be taken of capacity across Greater Manchester?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I recognise her concerns for her constituents. As has been outlined, there are seasonal variations, and I am sure that local commissioners will want to take such issues into account when they make decisions, and they must meet the reconfiguration tests set out by the previous Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley).

The Better Services Better Value review of NHS services in south-west London identified that Croydon university hospital does not have sufficient senior doctors in its A and E, and nor did it under the previous Government. The review has been put on hold because Surrey has asked to be included. Will the Minister reassure my constituents that there will be a rapid solution to ensure that we have the A and E care that we deserve?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight a long-standing problem—it has not happened just recently —of a lack of particularly middle-grade doctors in A and Es. Although the number of consultants has increased by about 50%, as A and Es move rightly towards becoming a 24/7 consultant-led service, attracting middle grades to the specialty has been a problem. We set up a task force to consider that, as well as making better use of a multidisciplinary work force and emergency nurse practitioners to meet some of the staff shortages.

The performance of A and E services has an obvious and acute effect on the performance of ambulance services. In London, freedom of information requests show that the number of ambulances waiting more than 30 minutes from arriving at hospital to handing over their patients has gone up by two thirds over the last year, that ambulances are missing their targets in responding to the most serious life-threatening callouts, and that the average length of time that patients wait in ambulances before accessing A and E is going up, and in some cases patients are waiting almost three hours. The Care Quality Commission says that London Ambulance Service NHS Trust does

“not have sufficient staff to keep people safe”.

The question for the Secretary of State is simple: what is he going to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the unacceptable variations in the quality of triage and handover between ambulance services and hospitals, not just in London but in other parts of the country. Many hospitals, however, do that well, and it is important that local MPs highlight the issue, champion good practice on handovers and ensure that that good practice is carried out at other A and Es. It is unacceptable that patients should wait for handover.

Can the Minister update the House on the roll-out of the 111 service and its effect on A and E admissions and 999 calls?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are developing the 111 service further to improve triage and take pressure off accident and emergency services when that is appropriate. I am sure all Members agree that when patients do not need to go to A and E, it is best for them to be treated in the community or properly triaged.