PMQs: A&E waiting times: a Prime Minister in denial

The A&E crisis starts in the GP's surgery. Labour should make more of this.

The A&E crisis starts in the GP’s surgery. Labour should make more of this

There was another NHS spat during today’s PMQs (hardly a surprise) which largely focused on NHS waiting times (again, not a surprise – waiting times are a significant public concern).

The NHS often brings out the worst in the prime minister, who last week tried to wriggle out of accusations that people were having to wait longer for NHS treatment on his watch.

Last week the House of Commons Library was asked by the government to remove a blog on the NHS after it contradicted Cameron’s claims during last week’s session of PMQs that A&E waiting times were lower under his government.

Thankfully, the blog post in question was salvaged before it could completely vanish. You can read it in full here. This graph is all you really need, though; it shows a truer picture of A&E waiting times since 2008/09.

It’s fairly obvious in which direction the blue line is headed.

As we’ve been reporting recently, NHS A&E waiting time figures look increasingly grim: the government’s target for 95 per cent of patients to spend less than four hours in A&E has been missed for 50 weeks in a row, according to figures from NHS England.

Many of those having to wait longer in A&E are there because they are unable to get an appointment with a GP (their conditions deteriorate and they roll up at A&E in a worse state). According to a 2012/13 study by Imperial College London, 5.77 million A&E patients were there because they couldn’t get a doctor’s appointment.

Considering Labour has made a very sensible pledge to guarantee a GP appointment for everyone within 48 hours, it’s surprising Ed Miliband hasn’t made more of this. Presumably he prefers to attack the coalition for increasing waiting times without going into detail (not necessarily a bad strategy during PMQs).

He would do well, though, to draw greater attention to one of the major causes of the spike in A&E waiting times – the inability to see a GP – as well as Labour’s proposed solution – guaranteed appointments.

People ‘on the street’ talk about this issue all the time, and the blame for it rumbling on lies squarely with David Cameron and the government, who have done little to address the problem and whenever the subject is broached try to throw misleading statistics around.

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