Labour derides Tory MP for blaming immigrants for A&E crisis

Andy Burnham says Chris Skidmore's comments were "beneath contempt" after GPs' head rejects claim that migrants are to blame for the "massive increase" in waiting times.

After new figures from the King's Fund showed that A&E waiting times have reached their highest level for nine years, the Conservatives are desperately trying to find a way to blame anyone but the government. 

On the Today programme this morning, Tory MP Chris Skidmore, a member of the health select committee, suggested that immigration was one of the main causes of the crisis. 

The two biggest drivers, I think, for A&E are an ageing population and people turning up at A&E unnecessarily sometimes. But when you look at the evidence, John Heyworth, the president of the Collge of Emergency Medicine, has said that migrants routinely visit A&E instead of actually going to their GP, and when you look at UK Border Agency studies of about 700 migrants, only half were ever registered with a GP. So, what you’re finding is that immigrants are not registering with GPs and going directly to A&E, which may account for part of the rise in admissions.

But Clare Gerarda, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, rubbished his claim.

You're much more likely to have an immigrant caring for you than sitting up in front of the emergency department. I will accept there are certain migrants, especially those from Eastern Europe, who don't have a tradition of general practice, who will go to the emergency department rather than to general practice and we need to address that, but it's certainly not responsible for the massive increase we've seen in recent months and it's certainly not responsible for the 1.7% increase that we’ve seen over the last decade.

After that authoritative rebuttal, Labour has also gone on the attack. Andy Burnham tweeted:

Having tried, and failed, to blame 2004 GP contract for the pressures in A&E, Tories are now trying to blame immigration. Beneath contempt.

He was joined by shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant, who wrote

Chris Skidmore's argument about A&E and immigration was a disgrace, not based on evidenced facts, but on surmise, anecdote and prejudice.

Labour has also rejected the Tories' claim that the last government's decision in 2004 to remove responsibility for out-of-hours care from GPs was to blame. Burnham said: "It was a diversionary tactic that was politically convenient for them but isn’t true because what we’ve seen today is that A&E waits are now at a nine-year high at the early months of this year. That’s a full decade almost after the introduction of the 2004 GPs’ contract, so the pressure has been created by the policies of this government. It’s a number of factors that are leading to this pressure, it’s a mess of their making. They must urgently get a grip and sort it out."

Burnham and Jeremy Hunt will get a chance to duke it out tomorrow when the emergency Commons debate called by Labour is held. 

Ambulances are seen at the Accident and Emergency department of St. Thomas' Hospital in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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