Jeremy Hunt has admitted taking his children to accident and emergency because he did not want to wait for a GP appointment.
The Health Secretary has spoken numerous times to urge the public to avoid A&E departments in all but the most urgent cases and turn to pharmacies, doctors’ surgeries and walk-in centres instead.
But speaking during today’s health questions in the House of Commons, he appeared to go against his own advice.
Mr Hunt said: “I took my own children to an A&E department at the weekend precisely because I did not want to wait until later on to take them to see a GP.”
He was responding to a question from Conservative MP Lorraine Fullbrook on improving access to GP surgeries, adding that the Government was using a £50 million fund to increase the number of evening and weekend appointments in England.
Mr Hunt added: “We have to recognise that society is changing and people do not always know whether the care that they need is urgent or whether it is an emergency, and making GPs available at weekends will relieve a lot of pressure in A&E departments.”
The NHS runs annual campaigns urging people to use GP appointments, out-of-hours services and walk-in-clinics rather than overloaded hospitals.
Its website tells patients that they should only visit A&E for “life-threatening emergencies” including severe blood loss, unconsciousness and breathing difficulties.
Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, blamed Mr Hunt’s experience on the Government scrapping GP access targets, which promised patients a GP appointment within 48 hours, in 2010.
The Health Secretary is under pressure to order the publication of delayed reports showing the extent of pressures on hospitals in England, amid accusations that the Government is attempting to downplay the scale of a potential winter A&E crisis.
Labour said the failure of the NHS to publish its weekly “winter pressures situation reports” raised fears that the Health Secretary “doesn't want people to know what's happening on the NHS frontline”. And experts believe that vulnerable people are having more accidents in the home because of cuts in social care.
The NHS insists there has been no political interference but the reason for the delay remains unclear.
There were more emergency admissions to English hospitals in the second week of November than in any week in NHS history and performance against the target to treat or admit 95 per cent of patients within four hours has deteriorated rapidly, despite the mild weather.
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