Emergency departments in our hospitals have reached a “tipping point”, according to Dr Clifford Mann, the president of the College of Emergency Medicine. He is referring to the release of figures today expected to show the worst performance of A&E units in a decade, with the government’s four-hour target waiting time almost certainly missed.
NHS England is set to publish some damning data on the last quarter of last year today, revealing the pressure on our hospitals that the increase in patients attending A&E, up 20,000 since 2013, has had. A number of hospitals have filed “major incident” warnings in recent days, because their emergency departments have been overstretched.
In spite of a number of senior figures in the medical world – including those working in some of the hospitals issuing major incident warnings – regarding the situation as an unprecedented situation, government figures have so far refused to call this a “crisis”. Dr Ian Proctor of one of the affected teaching hospitals used the word in an interview on the BBC’s Today programme this morning, but the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who was interviewed afterwards, refused to use such terms.
It’s clear there is a capacity and, to some extent, a resource issue affecting our hospitals, but government ministers – specifically Conservative ones – would fall into a political crisis if it treated the situation with the gravity it calls for. This is because Labour’s narrative for over a year has been about an “A&E crisis” in our hospitals. As Labour ramps up its rhetoric on the NHS, and the rhetoric manifests itself as a reality in our beleagured health service, it will become increasingly difficult for Tory figures like Hunt to close the credibility gap in its approach to the public service that could well become the general election’s central battleground.