Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
7 January 2015updated 09 Sep 2021 1:53pm

The real root of the A&E crisis lies far beyond the wards

Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron both brushed off Labour's concerns over the A&E crisis as political hot air today – they do so at their own peril.

By Benedict Cooper

How restful it must be to be Jeremy Hunt. Lesser health secretaries would regard the NHS’ worst ever A&E performance happening on their watch as a damning indictment. More insecure an operator might take the calling of an urgent summit to discuss the unfolding crisis as a sobering reflection on their own ability.

Perish the thought. Outcry from Labour over the alarming figures is merely “an example of the politicisation of the NHS that people find so distressing,” he said, during an urgent question session called today by Labour in the hope of prising some answers from him.

Since the figures were published yesterday the Tories have done everything but accept them for the depressing landmark they are. They have continuously blamed unprecedented demand from an ageing population for the surge, combined with the traditional winter spike in admissions.

Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that A&E attendance in England was actually higher over the summer than the “unprecedented demand” in December that has led to this crisis. But let’s leave that to one side.

Even accepting that overall admissions are increasing, it’s facile of Hunt to blame increasing demand on an ageing population alone. Accident and emergency is not an island, entire of itself. Cut the wider social and welfare system, squeeze GPs, and enforce a hugely wasteful internal market – as this government has done compulsively – and A&E figures will go up, hospitals will be less able to cope with them.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Yet in today’s session a question from Labour MP for Rother Valley Sir Kevin Barron, over whether he thought cuts to social care in Rotherham has “helped or hindered the situation” locally was just as nonchalantly brushed aside.

Content from our partners
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis
Data on cloud will change the way you interact with the government
Defining a Kodak culture for the future

As National Health Action party founder and chair Clive Peedell tells me this morning: “Wealth inequality leads to health inequality. Austerity increases demand on the system; people become less well”.

Andy Burnham understands this. In today’s session he put it to Hunt that to address the crisis the issue must be discussed in the context of the local authority, welfare and social-care cuts which, he said, “are a root cause of the pressure on hospitals”.

Burnham is absolutely right to call for a summit to develop a “coordinated plan” that involves “all public services affected”. But it will not solve the looming crisis that even Jeremy Hunt must know is going to get worse in the coming weeks and months, despite, he said today, the fact that he has been planning for this eventuality since March.

Hunt’s dismissal of Labour’s concerns over the A&E crisis as being merely political reflects a galling lack of concern or understanding for what is a deeply serious and worsening situation.

There’s something tragically ironic in accusations of politicisation from a party that has had a video entitled “David Cameron gets emotional as he talks about the importance of the NHS to his family” pinned to the top of its health team’s Twitter feed since 1 October. It would be funny, if it weren’t so very serious.