It is a pleasure to follow Kate Green, who attempted to make solid, practical suggestions in a debate that has too often become too politicised, as the debate on A and E did in June. I will refer to that later.
I represent a large constituency with a large rural population. Some people are 10, 15 or 20 miles away from the one A and E. To me, it sounds a little bit rich when hon. Members from urban areas talk about the A and Es in their part of town when no account of that distance or rurality was included in any grant formula by the previous Government. I wanted to put that on the record.
From my perspective and, I am sure, from that of all hon. Members, the majority of our constituents get a damn good service from hard-working professionals, who will work at Christmas time when the rest of us are on holiday. Having said that, hon. Members recognise that there has been a big growth in the number of people attending A and E. Those facts are clear. Opposition Members suggest that that happened last year or a few years ago. According to the Opposition motion, the increase has been
“three times faster since 2009-10”.
However, the College of Emergency Medicine report “The drive for quality” shows a sharp upward trend in new attendances at A and E, but its figures start from 2003.
That ties in with local information. I asked my A and E doctors at the Lancaster royal infirmary to give me figures for the past few years. They say that the number of new patients attending A and E decreased between 1989 and 1993 and steadied at about 35,000 admissions a year until 1999, when the number increased rapidly. The figures are clear. There were 35,000 A and E admissions in 1999; 36,000 in 2000; and 37,000 in 2001. There was an increase of 1,000 in every single year to 2007. Funnily enough, there was a 3,000 increase in A and E attendances from 2006 to 2007. The latest figures I have are for 2011, when there were 52,500 attendances. The increase did not happen yesterday but continually over that period, for all the reasons hon. Members have mentioned.
The other side of the problem is the training and retention of A and E specialists. We have all heard stories of vacancies in A and E departments. I understand that it was announced today that Wales is 15% down on A and E specialists. One reason is that working in A and E is hard, and there is evening and weekend work, so people move to other specialisms. To increase retention, we need to recognise the work of A and E specialists, which might mean through salaries. We need to give A and E specialists the recognition they deserve to keep them in those posts.
The Labour motion mentions the 48-hour appointment guarantee. It is no use having an appointment within 48 hours if it lasts for only five minutes before the doctor moves the patient out just to meet the target, which is what happened in the past.