Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day] — Accident and Emergency

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:32 pm on 18th December 2013.

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Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State for Health 1:32 pm, 18th December 2013

I will make some progress because I am conscious that many Members want to speak in both debates.

The picture that emerged from our summit was of a health service on the edge, creaking at the seams, with corners being cut and A and E as the last resort for people failed by other services—people who, in an ideal world, ought not to have been there. We heard of people with severe mental health problems in A and E because of a lack of crisis beds, people with severe dental pain who could not afford treatment, disorientated older people with dementia and, perhaps saddest of all, palliative patients in A and E waiting areas.

It is clear that the cost of living crisis and this Government’s failure to support people through it might also be driving people to A and E. The House is soon to debate the scourge of food poverty that now blights our land. Food banks are growing at an exponential rate. Indeed, we now read that it is Government policy to ask councils to set up more, even though they have just cut the funding of the councils with the most food banks. It is unbelievable. It suggests to me that they expect food poverty to be with us for some time to come and have no real intention of tackling it. People will go on having to choose between eating properly and putting the heating on—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State chunters, but he has no idea what it is like to do that, has he?

People are making other impossible choices that might damage their health. I am told of the growing number of people now taking prescription medicines on an empty stomach because they cannot afford to eat properly. Dr Ellie Cannon, a GP who also writes for The Mail on Sunday, recently tweeted:

“I’m sad to say that at my NHS practice if we have a patient who has unexplained symptoms, we have started asking if they can afford to eat”.

How can that possibly be right in England in 2013? Has the Secretary of State considered reviewing the effect on people’s health of the growing problem of food poverty and has he discussed the effects of benefits policy on people’s health with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions? If he has not, I suggest that he does so immediately.