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A and E Waiting Times

Volume 586: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2014

Of the 21.7 million attendances at all A and E departments in England in 2013-14, 939,000 were not seen and treated within four hours, meaning that 95.7%—0.7% above the national target—were. I am pleased to inform the House that hospitals will have an extra 260 A and E doctors this winter, bringing emergency medics in the NHS to a record high.

The reason for the big rise in A and E admissions in my area is the weekday closure of the hugely popular Alexandra Avenue polyclinic. Will the Secretary of State look again at Harrow’s NHS funding formula to determine whether that popular service could be reopened?

I am happy to look at the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. I have visited the Northwick Park A and E department, where the clinicians on the front line are working incredibly hard. As he knows, the funding formula is decided independently—at arm’s length from politicians—but we have ensured that everyone gets a real-terms rise.

Data published last Friday show that A and Es have missed their waiting targets for 64 weeks on the bounce. They are in a worse state now than they were last winter. What is going on?

First, I caution the hon. Gentleman on his use of statistics, because he is referring to a subset of A and Es, not all of them. Last year we hit our A and E target. I say gently to Labour Members that they need to be careful if they try to politicise operational issues, because people will note that in every year of this Parliament we have hit our A and E targets in England and Labour has missed its targets in Wales.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the figures show that the average wait before assessment in A and Es in England is now down to 30 minutes, as opposed to 77 minutes under the previous Labour Government?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I just say to the Labour party that the time people wait to be seen at A and Es has reduced while the number of people going to A and Es has increased, but in the end it will not be sustainable unless we invest in out-of-hospital care, which is why we need more personal care by GPs. That is why we have brought back named GPs and why we have 1,000 more GPs than we did four years ago.

May I welcome the outstanding treatment provided at the A and E at the William Harvey hospital—part of East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust—which I attended on a family emergency during the summer, and note that the Care Quality Commission is getting striking improvements in East Kent, rather than the sort of cover-ups we used to see in the past?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under this Government, with the new inspection regime, we have had to take the difficult decision to put 18 hospitals into special measures, including East Kent. Six have now come out of special measures. We are tackling these problems in the NHS by being honest about them. I gently say to the Labour party that if it wants to be the party of the NHS, it has to give the country confidence that it will be honest about poor care when it comes across it.

On A and E, does the Secretary of State accept that we must do more to address the appalling statistic that one in four cancers is diagnosed in A and E departments? At the weekend, Labour outlined plans dramatically to reduce the wait for tests and results, paid for through a tobacco levy, which are supported by Macmillan, Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Radiologists. Will he now back those plans?

I welcome the fact that Labour is thinking about how to improve our performance on cancer, because in 2010 we had the worst cancer survival rates in western Europe. I gently say to the Labour party that the issue is only partly about the amount of time it takes to get a hospital appointment when one has a referral; a much bigger issue is the fact that we are not spotting cancers early enough in the first place. That is why I hope that Labour will also welcome the fact that in this Parliament we are on track to treat nearly 1 million more people for cancer than we did in the previous Parliament. That is real progress of which the whole House can be proud.

While it is working with one of the most outdated A and Es in the NHS, and one that will require fresh capital investment, does the Secretary of State recognise the tremendous improvement at Kettering general hospital’s A and E, which in the past year has gone from one of the worst performing to one of the best performing in the country?

I absolutely recognise that, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the very close interest he takes in what is happening at Kettering hospital. I have visited the hospital, as he knows, and think that it is working very hard and that it offers a very good example of how, even when times are tough, finances are tough and there is increasing pressure from an ageing population, it is possible to increase and improve A and E performance. It has done a terrific job.