Health cuts 'closed emergency wards'

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The Independent Online
Cutbacks in the National Health Service have led to fewer accident and emergency departments across England dealing with more and more patients, according to a Labour Party survey.

Figures obtained by Alan Milburn, MP for Darlington, show that in the six years between 1988 and 1994, the number of accident and emergency departments fell from from 301 to 218.

He said that in the last year there had been 12 closures, with the biggest losers being people living in the North-west, who had lost six in the last three years. Only the West Midlands had seen an increase.

Mr Milburn blamed the cutbacks on the Government's insistence that the NHS operates as a commercial concern. This had proved a "disaster" for patient care.

He said the cutbacks had coincided with an increase in the number of attendances at the units - 13,289,000 in 1993-94, a rise of 219,000 on the previous year. "Closures have overloaded casualty services in all parts of the country. Short- staffed accident and emergency departments are being stretched to breaking point."

The junior health minister, Tom Sackville, accused Mr Milburn of using figures which would "frighten the public needlessly". He said the number of attendances had fallen from 13.9 million in 1989-90 to 13.3 million in 1993-94. That coincided with an increase in the number of emergency doctors, resulting in more patients being seen by specialised staff.