THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has sought to elevate
above party politics the debate about accident and emergency
services, after figures showed that waiting times were at their
worst level in a decade.
He called for "systematic change" to address the pressure on
A&E departments, highlighting the impact of an ageing
population, and an increase in emergency admissions of nearly six
per cent on last year.
"Much of the debate in the other place has, not surprisingly,
been highly politicised, because we are approaching an election,"
he said on Thursday of last week. "I hope that, in this debate,
this House can stand back and take a more dispassionate view."
About 20 per cent of referrals from A&E to acute wards
involved patients whose condition could be treated appropriately by
their GPs or in the community, he argued. "Ultimately, resolving
the current and ongoing A&E crisis involves a systematic change
to the ways in which health and social care are organised."
His contribution was welcomed by the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd
Stephen Conway, who made recommendations, including the recruitment
of younger GPs to market towns.
The tone of the debate was different from that in the House of
Commons, in which the Opposition has argued that the pressure on
A&E services is attributable to cuts in funding.
"The question is this: why is there such unprecedented demand?"
the Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, said this month. "Could
it have anything to do with the difficulty in getting a GP
appointment, the closure of walk-in centres, or the cuts to social
In the last quarter of 2014, 92.6 per cent of patients were seen
within the national target-time of four hours - the worst
performance since records started in 2004. During the Christmas
period, 20,962 A&E patients waited between four and 12 hours on
trolleys, compared with 5573 in the two-week period last year.
The Government has emphasised the extra £700 million that it has
allocated to the NHS to cope with winter pressures.
In the House of Lords last week, the Health Minister Lord Howe
said that a review of urgent and emergency care would "improve
access to, and the availability of, services outside