Andy McSmith's Diary: Crisis? What crisis? Jeremy Hunt resembles another politician heading for A&E


Some people think that the nation’s accident and emergency wards are in crisis, but they are wrong, according to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Dr Cliff Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors, said earlier this month: “It’s not chaos in emergency departments, but it is a crisis.”

The Commons Health Committee, under a Tory chairman, has warned that the pressures on A&E departments are “unsustainable”, and the Royal College of Nursing has described them as “dangerously overburdened”. It emerged last week that in the six months to the end of October, 87,186 NHS patients were waiting on trolleys for between four and 12 hours, an increase of nearly 40,000 on the previous period of 2011.

But there is no cause for concern, to judge by what Jeremy Hunt and his Liberal Democrat Deputy Norman Lamb said as they answered MPs’ questions in the Commons yesterday.

“Labour is always desperately in search of a crisis, even if there is none to be found,” Mr Lamb said. Mr Hunt told his Labour shadow, Andy Burnham: “We are hitting our A&E target, and we are hitting our ambulance standard. You are trying to talk up a crisis that is not happening.”

It takes you back to when James Callaghan flew back to a crisis-ridden country looking suntanned, and inspired the headline: “Crisis? What crisis?” The difference was that Callaghan did not actually say that. Mr Hunt has.

Shutting the stable door

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, a very busy man, has one fewer constituency engagement cluttering his diary.

The Citizens Advice Bureau in his Stratford constituency had asked him to chair the launch of a report they have compiled on the unfairness of making vulnerable families have pre-payment gas or electricity meters in their home.

Then it emerged that Mr Zahawi had claimed more than £4,800 worth of heating bills off the taxpayers to which he was not entitled, and has paid back. Faced with the prospect that their meeting could be taken over by hacks wanting to know how a rich man failed to notice that he has been heating his stables at taxpayers’ expense, the CAB have uninvited Mr Zahawi.

Drop the dead bank

For those who wonder whether people who run the BBC behind the scenes have a nose for news, Robert Peston, the business editor, told this story during a talk at City University: “There were times when I wondered whether they quite understood what was happening and what I was doing. One of my, ahem, favourite memories was of September 13 2007, sitting next to Huw Edwards on the Ten O’Clock News desk, shortly before going on air to flesh out the news I had broken earlier that evening, that Northern Rock had failed and was being bailed out by the Bank of England. It was literally two minutes before going live when a senior BBC editor came up to me and asked ‘are you sure this is a story?’.”

Nigella’s line on drug use

“It appears to be the case that the desire for intoxication is innate in humans… Just because something is innate doesn’t make it good, but whatever, prohibition can never be the answer.” So said Nigella Lawson, one of the celebrity supporters of Transform, an organisation campaigning for reform of drug laws. Its slogan is “Getting drugs under control”.

Wise men don’t use satnav

I have never trusted satnavs since the car that was supposed to be taking me from Doncaster station to Hatfield Colliery nearby took the motorway towards Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

So I feel deeply for the parents and children of Brampton, near Carlisle, who were looking forward to seeing three wise women riding through town on camels. After months of planning by the parish council, come the moment, there were no camels.

The driver delivering them from Warwickshire followed his satnav to Brampton, near Appleby, more than 30 miles away from their Brampton. The camels arrived in the end, but really that driver should have followed yonder star.

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