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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:55 pm on 18th December 2013.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health 1:55 pm, 18th December 2013

I am going to make some progress.

Our plans go much further than simply reversing the 2004 contract. GPs will offer the most vulnerable guaranteed same-day telephone consultations, which never happened under Labour. There will be a dedicated telephone line so that A and E doctors, ambulance paramedics and others can get advice from GPs about treatment in urgent situations. GPs will co-ordinate care for elderly patients discharged from A and E to try to ensure they get proper wrap-around care to minimise the chance of needing to go back.

We have done something else that the right hon. Member for Leigh never did to tackle long-term pressure on A and E. One of the biggest problems has been not being able to discharge people from hospital because of poor links between the health and social care systems. Through our £3.8 billion better care fund, this Government are doing something that Labour talked about a lot but never actually delivered: we are merging the health and social care systems. Gone will be people being pushed from pillar to post, because in order to access this fund, clinical commissioning groups and local authorities will have to commit to joint commissioning and joint provision.

Finally, we have looked at the long-term structure of A and E. The previous Government were battered by a succession of failed reconfigurations. We, too, have had challenges over decisions, such as those with regard to Lewisham. Sir Bruce Keogh’s recent review of urgent and emergency care has changed the terms of this debate by setting out a 21st-centruy vision of emergency care. Sir Bruce rightly said there should be more extensive services outside hospital, and this, too, will help to reduce A and E queues. He rightly said that while the number of A and Es is not expected to change, the services offered by all of them should not be identical if we are to maximise the number of lives saved. Our duty to patients is to make that a reality and we will not hesitate to drive that vision forward.

A and E and the ambulance services are performing well under unprecedented pressure. I cannot speak highly enough of the hard-working staff who are working around the clock to deliver vital services. They share our overriding commitment to putting patients first this winter. Unlike Labour Members, we do not seek to turn a tough winter into a political football. If they want to make the comparison between our record and theirs, we are happy to do so: more people being seen within four hours, shorter waiting times, and long-term problems being tackled—not posturing from the Opposition, but action from the Government, and a commitment to do what it takes to support hard-working front-line staff over Christmas. We should get behind them and not undermine their efforts.