Statement from Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party on A&E's 'worst week' in England, with the lowest percentage of patients seen within four hours since monitoring began in 2010.
"The reason A&E is in crisis is not because too many people are attending A&E as there has only been a small rise in the number of people turning up at A&E. Waiting times are the worst ever, with the numbers of people waiting over 4 hours more than doubling from 4000 to 10000 compared to the same week last year. Yet the number of people attending A&E is up less than 5.5% from the same week last year, from 416,000 to 440,000. (*)
Don't blame patients for the A&E crisis. Blame the government.
Blaming increased A&E attendance is a convenient way for the Government to avoid responsibility for the more important factors within its control that are contributing to the problem: A&E closures creating more pressure on nearby hospitals, sick patients stuck in A&E as cuts in the number of hospital beds mean they can't be admitted onto wards, and cuts to social care budgets meaning more elderly people are ending up hospital and then suffering delayed discharge due to a lack of appropriate care in the community. This is known as 'exit block'. Drastic cuts to social services budgets (**) are leading to delays in arranging packages of care for patients to support them when they come out of hospital.
It has been estimated by the Health Foundation (***) that we would have needed an additional 25 A&Es to meet increased demand just due to population growth since 2003. Instead the number of major A&Es has been cut by 8% since 2003 and more A&Es are still scheduled for closure despite the crisis.
This crisis was predictable and should have been planned for. The changing demographics and rising admissions have been known about for years. The interaction between social services budgets and delayed discharge is likewise well understood. The solution is proper planning and investment in NHS and social services. Instead we have had £20 billion “efficiency savings” in the past 5 years and another £30 billion to come. A+Es have been closed. Hospital, community, GP, mental health, and social care budgets have been cut.
The £700 million ‘winter crisis funding” the Government is throwing at the problem is too little, too late. It is intended to avert political embarrassment in the run up to the election. Sadly it’s unlikely to have much impact on the conditions for patients or staff in our A&Es this winter."
* A&E figures from NHS England: http://www.england.