Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

South London Press column: A&E Winter Crisis - 17.01.2014

More people end up going to Accident and Emergency (A&E) during the winter - because there's more illnesses and accidents when it’s cold.  Most of us have experienced first-hand the excellent care given by Kings College Hospital A&E - or seen it on TV in "24 hours in A&E".  But with A&E’s already stretched with increased demand, this winter could be really tough and not just because of the weather.

In the last 12 months, A&E waiting times are up, trolley waits are up, ambulance queues are up, and people are waiting longer to be discharged – all symptoms of a system under pressure. Nationally we’ve lost thousands of nurses, and seen a shortage of senior A&E doctors.

With cuts to elderly care, older people are less likely to get the care they need at home, which means they end up going in to hospital and then with home care services stretched, it’s more difficult to get them back home. So when they wait for the homecare package to be arranged, the hospital bed is occupied and it’s more difficult to admit people who come in to A&E.

Instead of supporting frontline services, Tory and Lib Dem MPs voted in the House of Commons to spend £3billion of taxpayers' money on an unnecessary, unwanted top-down reorganisation that nobody voted for and David Cameron promised wouldn't happen.

Kings has one of the busiest and best A&E departments in London.  And they do an excellent job with the resources they have. They have recently taken on the running of the Princess Royal University Hospital in Bromley and its A&E department, and the challenges it faces are significant.

If the Government presses on with its closure of Lewisham Hospital A&E, on the basis of data we have from Lewisham and Kings, we estimate that Kings will see a 45% increase in the A&E admissions. The staff at Kings does an excellent job but there is no way that Kings can cope with a doubling of in-patients and provide a good service to these extra people.

There is a worrying increase in waiting times for people who come to Kings A&E.  The percentage of people waiting over 4 hours in A&E has trebled from 3.5% to 10.6% since this time last year. Before 1997, when Labour came into government after 18 years of the Tories neglecting the NHS, Kings was in a terrible state with patients having to wait hours in a corridor till a hospital bed could be found. My worry is that with the Lib Dems and Tories wasting billions of pounds on NHS reorganisation, we are slipping back to the dark days before Labour put money into hospitals like Kings to modernise the NHS and raise standards.

Last year, the Government introduced the biggest top-down re-organisation of the NHS to date which Labour believes will lead to the break-up of the NHS and ultimately privatisation. This change would never have become law without Lib Dem support. I voted against it. But it got through and became law because the Lib Dems, including Simon Hughes voted for it.

The NHS is one of the most important things about Britain.  We need to keep it that way and help it carry on improving.  But after 3 years of Tory-Lib Dem Government, the NHS today is suffering from an A&E crisis with patients and hard pressed staff paying the price. With A&E waiting times nationally now at a 10 year high, the Government must act now to avert a crisis in our hospitals.

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