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Bishop calls on Lords to take dispassionate view of A&E services

23 January 2015

PA

Demand: ambulances outside Lincoln County Hospital, earlier this month 

Demand: ambulances outside Lincoln County Hospital, earlier this month 

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 care?"

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 hospitals".

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