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

That is the central point of my speech: the removal of the guarantee that patients could get an appointment within two working days. The Government removed it in June 2010 and, as a result, we all hear stories, do we not, of people saying that they are getting up and ringing the surgery at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning and are being told that there is nothing available for days. That is a result of the Government’s decision to remove the two-day guarantee. That is why people are facing that frustration. I shall explain that in more detail—[Interruption.] Government Members say that the guarantee did not work, but in 2005 nine out of 10 people said that they could get an appointment within two days. Have those Members checked the figures recently? There is falling satisfaction with GP services and it is happening on their watch.

I asked the Secretary of State whether he had spoken to the Work and Pensions Secretary, and he needs to do so urgently. The truth is that pressure has been growing all year on A and E and he has been ignoring the warnings, sticking to his usual line of blaming everyone else. His original line was to blame the 2004 GP contract, but that was undermined by the Chair of the Select Committee on Health and the inconvenient fact that there was no winter crisis in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 or, indeed, 2009.

Having seen his original spin dismissed, the Secretary of State changed tack. In a message to NHS staff on 6 December he said:

“Our ageing society has meant 1.2 million more people in A&E every year compared to 3 years ago”.

Finally we have an admission that the pressure has built on his watch, but as ever, it is nothing to do with the Government. It is nothing to do with the break-up of NHS Direct and its replacement with the disastrous NHS 111, nothing to do with the closure of a quarter of NHS walk-in centres, nothing to do with the severe cuts to social care and the removal of home care from vulnerable people, nothing to do with the loss of 6,000 nursing jobs and nothing to do with the reorganisation that no one wanted and no one voted for that threw the entire NHS into chaos just when it needed stability and that has led to precious NHS money being spent on redundancy payments only for those people to be re-employed by new NHS bodies. No, it is now all the fault of the ageing society. You could not make it up, Madam Deputy Speaker.