Labour has called on the government to hold an urgent summit on how to alleviate pressure on A&E services in English hospitals. The call comes following figures showing that the NHS had missed its A&E waiting time target for the last three months of 2014.
The pressure on hospital A&E departments has led to several declaring ‘major incident’ status this week. The status triggers the implementation of extra measures, such as calling in off-rota staff and cancelling non-emergency care like routine operations.
In a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said there had been a “failure” to anticipate the situation.
He suggested the problem was linked to a loss of social care capacity provided by councils this winter. He said: “You will know that I have repeatedly warned throughout this Parliament that severe cuts to social care could end up dragging down the NHS. This is exactly what is happening now. Increasing numbers of very frail, elderly people are ending up in A&E and then becoming trapped in hospital because the care they need to be discharged is not available.”
In response to this letter, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “The NHS, the Department of Health, local clinicians and managers have – and are – doing everything possible to plan carefully, provide care safely, and put in place extra services to respond.”
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, chairwoman of the Commons Health Select Committee, said different hospitals faced different issues. She told BBC Breakfast: “To say there is a one size fits all solution that can be plonked down by politicians would be completely wrong. It needs to be looked at in each individual health area by those clinical leaders in that area.”
The performance is the worst quarterly result since the A&E waiting target was introduced at the end of 2004. .
Mr Burnham said a summit was needed to “assess the situation and put in place a coordinated plan to ensure patient safety and support the performance of A&E departments” to minimise any avoidable further major incidents being declared.