Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt / Susannah Ireland


Jeremy Hunt must abandon plans to downgrade hospital A&E units until pressure on the health service eases, a senior Conservative has warned.

Nick de Bois, secretary of the powerful Tory backbench 1992 Committee, said that until the NHS stopped “funnelling patients to A&E” the Health Secretary must “call a halt” to the programme of hospital reconfigurations.

His comments will increase pressure on Mr Hunt ahead of a debate on the A&E crisis in Parliament on Wednesday.

It comes as a new survey of more than 100 of the country’s most successful hospitals found that seven out of 10 believed the accident and emergency system is at a “tipping point”.

Most trusts, questioned by Foundation Trust Network, said increasing demand played a part in the pressures on A&E departments, with 42 per cent naming more seriously ill patients and 32 per cent blaming failures of primary and social care services for the problems. Most expect pressures in the system to be worse this winter than last.

Writing for The Spectator Nick de Bois, whose local hospital is under threat from being downgraded, said Mr Hunt should ignore medical  opinion that some hospitals should have their services merged or transferred into the community.

“Broadly speaking the medical profession is urging the government to press ahead with the re-configuration of acute services, with increased investment in and use of primary care outside of hospitals,” he said. “The public remain to be convinced and the obvious pressures on A&E units only serve to baffle patients as to why the government wants to downgrade their local units.”

He added that Mr Hunt should call a halt to the proposals. “We are in danger of putting the cart before the horse – reducing A&E provision before the alternatives are in place – and exacerbating the lack of trust rather than building it,” he said.

Another Conservative MP, Chris Skidmore, also claimed that part of the pressure on A&E was that migrants were more likely to go straight to hospital than visit their GP.

“The two biggest drivers for A&E are an ageing population and people turning up at A&E unnecessarily,” he said. “John Heyworth, the president of the College of Emergency Medicine, has said that migrants routinely visit A&E instead of going to their GP and when you look at UK Border Agency studies of about 700 migrants, only half were ever registered with a GP.”

But this was dismissed by Clare Gerada chair of the Royal College of GPs. “You’re much more likely to have an immigrant caring for you than sitting up in front of the emergency department,” she said.

“I will accept there are certain migrants, especially those from Eastern Europe who don’t have a tradition of general practice, who will go to the emergency department rather than to general practice and we need to address that, but it’s certainly not responsible for the massive increase we’ve seen in recent months … certainly not responsible for the 1.7 per cent increase over the last decade.”

The Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, said Labour would be putting forward its own “A&E rescue plan”.

“Jeremy Hunt has lost time and lost the argument,” he said. “His complacency is one of the greatest dangers the NHS faces. He needs to come …and produce a practical plan to relieve the pressure on A&E departments.

“In the absence of Government action, it is Labour that is showing the leadership the NHS desperately needs at this time. The Government has desperately tried to blame everybody else for a crisis of their own making. They are failing to get a grip on the real causes of the crisis…”

He said Labour would provide support by handing £1.2 billion of the NHS “under-spend” to support the elderly at home. They would also halt the closures of NHS Walk-In Centres and review all planned A&E closures and downgrades.

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