One of the supposed rules of modern politics is that you shouldn’t tell the voters they are wrong. So, Jeremy Hunt saying that a large part of the problem at A&E is people turning up who shouldn’t, is going to come in for some criticism. One can almost hear Labour readying its denunciation of the Health Secretary for trying to blame patients for the NHS crisis that Tory cuts have caused.
But Hunt is right about people turning up to hospital too readily. He cites NHS England’s numbers which show that up to 30 per cent of those attending A&E don’t need to be there. It should be noted, though, that people often go there because it is so difficult to find a GP out of hours.
Hunt’s answer to this problem is to say that the commitment to see patients within four hours will now only apply to those with urgent health problems. In other words, if you turn up at A&E with a minor ailment, you might have to wait a lot longer than that. One would expect this to mean that people are more reluctant to go to hospital unless their condition really is serious.
This is a sensible reform. It is clearly unsustainable to say that anyone who turns up at A&E will be seen within four hours, regardless. But this must be combined with making it far easier to see a GP out of hours.