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A and E Waiting Times

Volume 578: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2014

7. What estimate he has made of the number of patients who have waited for more than four hours in accident and emergency departments in 2013-14 to date (903424)

Despite 1.2 million more A and E attendances in England, nearly 96% of patients have been seen, treated, transferred and discharged within four hours of arrival at A and E. That excellent level of service is a credit to the hard work of front-line NHS staff across the whole NHS, and I am sure the whole House would want to thank them for that.

I am disappointed that the Minister has not bothered to answer the question. I will answer it for her: nearly 1 million patients have had to wait for longer than four hours in A and E over the past 12 months —it is one of the worst figures in a decade. Will she and her Government get a grip and sort this out?

I did answer the question—I told the hon. Lady exactly how the NHS was performing. I have to say that Government Members slightly despair at the constant churlishness of Opposition Members who try to talk down the NHS and talk up a crisis. They are trying to talk the situation into fitting the rhetoric, but the NHS has performed really well this winter and many more people have been seen within the target. The average waiting time for someone to be seen is actually 30 minutes. The NHS has done well and she should join us in congratulating it on that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the ways to reduce pressures on A and E is to ensure that people do not go to A and E if they do not need to? Will she compliment the Oxford clinical commissioning group for the work that it is doing in Abingdon and is about to do in Banbury in setting up a primary triage unit at the entrance of A and E to ensure that those who need primary care get it, and that those who do not require A and E care get the proper and appropriate care?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend’s local CCG. Increasingly, I am seeing, right across the country, imaginative and innovative ways in which people, local clinicians, public health professionals and people in wider health services are looking at how we keep people who do not need to go to A and E out of A and E. Some of them are doing remarkable work. We will be celebrating that this week by recognising some of those unsung heroes who are doing that great public health work in our communities.

Calderdale Royal hospital’s A and E is well run and very busy at times. Why does the Minister think that the proposed closure of it will improve the health care of my constituents?

I responded to a debate on that issue a few months ago. As the hon. Lady knows, there are no plans for what she suggests, but the local trust has begun a process, in which she and other local politicians are engaged. At the heart of that process is care for local people, looking at what is clinically best for them and what the best outcomes are for them in the long term. That will have regard to Sir Bruce Keogh’s review of urgent care. What we want are the best outcomes for people, and I am sure that that is what she wants too.

Every weekend, as a first responder volunteer in the NHS, I see too many people taken off to hospital unnecessarily. One way of addressing that is to have a proper strategy for community paramedicine. We have had a trial running in Goole, which the Secretary of State has seen, where an emergency care practitioner delivers care in people’s homes, thereby reducing visits to hospital. Do we not need a national strategy on community paramedicine?

I know of my hon. Friend’s extraordinary work as a first responder, and we all greatly admire it. He makes another great point about how we tackle this long-term challenge of the sustainability of our acute services. I am happy to draw his comments to the attention of NHS England. I am sure that it is one part of all the things it is looking at as it addresses this issue.

The complacency of this Minister knows no bounds. In 2011, the Prime Minister said:

“I refuse to go back to the days when people had to wait for hours on end to be seen in A and E.”

In 2013-14, the first year after the Government’s reorganisation, we saw the worst year in A and E for a decade, with almost 1 million people waiting longer than four hours to be seen in accident and emergency. As A and E is the barometer of the whole health and care system, is this not the clearest sign that the NHS is getting worse on their watch?

So desperate are the Opposition, I think the shadow Minister actually used the same opening line that he used at the last Health orals. It really is time to change the script. The NHS has seen more people in A and E than ever before. Waiting times have halved since the last Government left office. If he wants to come to the Dispatch Box and highlight problems in A and E, why does he not try the 86.6% of people being seen in Wales, which is a truly shocking performance statistic.