England faces its biggest accident and emergency crisis in a decade, with nearly one million people waiting longer than four hours to be seen by a doctor.
Earlier this month, hospitals in England also experienced an unwanted new record, with nearly 107,000 emergency admissions in just one week. Critics say that people are trying to get treatment through A&E, as wards are crammed with patients who are not being discharged as early as they would have been in the past because of a lack of aftercare services after discharge from hospital.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s health spokesman (pictured below), warned last night that the failures were the result of £1.8bn of cuts to local government social care budgets. He said this has led to a disproportionate number of the elderly being admitted to A&E with injuries and illnesses that could have been treated at home, stoking a political row with the coalition, who dismissed his analysis as “crass”.
With one week of the financial year still to go, 921,232 NHS patients have already spent more than four hours waiting to be seen, transferred or discharged after they reached A&E. The figure for the whole of 2012-13 was 901,411. The last time A&E services were under such pressure was in 2003-04, when 1.45 million patients were left waiting.
The crisis largely subsided in the final years of the last Labour government, with fewer than 400,000 patients kept waiting each year between 2005 and 2010. There have been sharp rises since the coalition came to power, with ministers forced to find budget savings in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Wall Street crash.
The news comes after a report by the Care Quality Commission in November said that more than half a million people aged 65 and over were admitted to hospital as an emergency with “potentially avoidable conditions” over the previous 12 months.
Mr Burnham said that patients were “paying the price for David Cameron’s arrogance”, as the Prime Minister had failed to listen to warnings that a revamp of the health service would hurt A&E departments. He added: “This is confirmation that the first full year after the Government’s NHS reorganisation has been the worst in a decade in A&E. The PM is responsible for this slump in A&E and it is his responsibility to sort it out. Elderly people are paying the price and are drifting towards A&E in record numbers. It is further proof that you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.”
The failing council care claims, however, were criticised by the Care and Support minister, Norman Lamb, last night. Mr Lamb, a Liberal Democrat who has been touted as a possible successor to Nick Clegg, said: “This is a flawed analysis. We are taking steps for the first time to change a pretty dysfunctional system.
“Labour in the previous decade rightly invested heavily in the NHS, but they did so at the acute end, the bit where they repair people. Their focus should have been on preventing ill-health.”
Mr Lamb pointed to 14 pilot schemes launched across the country late last year led by internationally renowned experts to co-ordinate care services, such as helping people who regularly turn to A&E to be more supported at home.
“Andy Burnham knows full well that the population is getting older; the trend is not new,” added Mr Lamb. “It’s just crass, a sort of petty politics.”
l Ed Miliband said yesterday that he would clear up confusion over the devolved Welsh Assembly’s powers if he wins the election next year.
Speaking at Labour’s Welsh conference in Llandudno, he said that, under his premiership, powers could be considered devolved “unless specifically reserved” for politicians in Westminster. This would bring Wales closer into line with the Scottish government.