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Accident and Emergency Units

Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2014

I met the chair of the College of Emergency Medicine four times in the last six months and I will meet him again next week.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Will he tell the House what progress has been made by Health Education England, along with the College of Emergency Medicine, to recruit trainee doctors from India in an attempt to address the serious staffing shortages in emergency medicines departments? Will he work with Ministers from other devolved regions to address the serious shortage in A and E doctors, which is having an impact on waiting lists in hospitals the length and breadth of the UK?

The hon. Lady is right that operational pressures on A and E are happening throughout the United Kingdom. We have made good progress in recruiting 50 A and E doctors to help relieve pressure this year in A and E departments, but that is a short-term measure. The long-term issue is to get more doctors going into A and E from training, and we are looking at contract structures and at what we can do with training schedules to make that more attractive. We will certainly work with colleagues in devolved Administrations and tell them what we have learned.

I welcome the fact that waiting times have halved under this Government, but the Norwich walk-in centre should stay in its city centre location to continue to move people away from A and E when they do not need to go there. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss urgent and primary care provision in Norwich?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, and she is right to say that the long-term solution to pressures in A and E is to find alternatives in out-of-hospital care that are easy for people to find. That means improving GP access and any other alternatives, and I am sure we can find a good solution in Norwich.

There is not one person in my constituency who does not want to see the accident and emergency unit stay open. If this is made clear in any consultation, will the Secretary of State commit today to scrapping the callous closure proposals?

As the hon. Lady knows, local service changes are the responsibility of the local NHS, but when they get referred to me, through local authorities, I will never take a decision that is against the interests of patients, including her constituents. Were such a proposal to come to me, I would indeed listen to any representations that she makes.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a critical problem that A and E units will face in the future is antibiotic resistance? Is he aware that the Science and Technology Committee, of which I am a member, has been looking at this issue, and it also interests the Health Committee, of which I am also a member? Can he assure me that he is talking to the Prime Minister about how to stimulate new antibiotic research, and will he also remember that nature has its own remedies, such as tea tree oil?

My hon. Friend is right about the seriousness of the issue of antimicrobial resistance. Some 25,000 people die in Europe every year as a result of the failure of antibiotics—more than die in road traffic accidents. I raised the issue at the World Health Assembly and I have discussed it closely with the Prime Minister.

The Health Secretary will be aware that the chair of Morecambe Bay trust has stood down today, ahead of what is expected to be another critical report from the Care Quality Commission about services. What guarantees can the Health Secretary give the worried people who are served by the Furness general hospital that its A and E department will be protected and the vital national industries that depend on its services will continue to be able to rely on them?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work that he does locally, in particular with people such as James Titcombe, who has campaigned extensively to improve the quality of care at Morecambe Bay. I assure the hon. Gentleman that whatever the problems are at Morecambe Bay, we will be transparent and open, and we will make sure that we deal with them promptly. That is why we have had these independent inquiries. We will look closely at what the report says and make sure that we act quickly.

The College of Emergency Medicine says that the use of agency doctors has become endemic in the NHS, and that hospitals are increasingly relying on more expensive agency nurses, just as Labour warned when jobs and training places were cut. It is clear that NHS finances are going backwards under this Government. Will the Minister now confirm Monitor’s latest figures, which show that annual spending on agency staff in foundation trusts has soared to £1.4 billion, a staggering 150% higher than trusts planned at the beginning of the year, and will he explain how that makes any financial sense?

Let us look at why the number of agency nurses has increased. It is because trusts have responded to the Francis report, published just over a year ago, and are seeking to end the shocking under-staffing of wards that was endemic under the last Labour Government. Of course we want people to recruit full-time nurses on proper contracts, and that is happening. That is why we have 3,000 more nurses—not agency nurses, but proper full-time nurses on proper NHS contracts—than when the hon. Lady’s Government were in power, and we will continue to make progress.