May 15, 2013 10:36 am

Jeremy Hunt admits to pressure on UK’s NHS emergency departments

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Admissions to NHS emergency departments rose 36% between 2001 and 2009©Getty

Admissions to NHS emergency departments rose 36% between 2001 and 2009

Jeremy Hunt, UK health secretary, said the government needed to take a “fundamental look” at how accident and emergency departments work after medical groups warned the service was close to “collapse”.

An ageing population and changes to GPs’ out-of-hours services have driven a rise in admissions to NHS emergency departments, he said. Hospital admissions rose 36 per cent between 2001 and 2009, leaving doctors stretched and making it hard to recruit new staff.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Hunt refused to deny a report in the Health Service Journal that he had asked for a £400m bailout fund to help A&Es across the country.

The trade publication said leaked emails showed Mr Hunt wanted to announce an extra contribution to solve the current problems, despite the health service budget being protected from the government’s austerity programme.

The health secretary admitted there were “huge pressures” on the NHS despite ringfencing the budget. But he said the government was addressing the long-term causes of the problem.

“We are having a very big look at primary care and particularly the way the primary care system deals with vulnerable older people, the sort of people who probably often could be better cared for outside hospitals but end up being rushed into hospital in the middle of the night because there aren’t alternatives in place,’’ he told the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday morning.

Two organisations that represent emergency medical staff and NHS managers warned on Wednesday that A&E services were in danger.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network that represents 200 health trusts, said the system could collapse in six months, while the College of Emergency Medicine warned that A&E units were facing their biggest challenge in over a decade.

The College said wards were suffering from “unsustainable workloads” and a lack of staff. It said in its report that the average ward runs on seven full-time consultants but needs at least ten to be sustainable. Errors that should never occur – such as leaving surgical instruments inside patients – happened in one in 17 A&E wards in just one year, the College said.

Some ministers have been insisting the NHS budget should no longer be protected, as they search for £11.5bn in cuts ahead of next month’s spending review. Philip Hammond, defence secretary, Vince Cable, business secretary, Chris Grayling, justice secretary and Eric Pickles, local government secretary, are among those arguing that the health service should not be spared as their departments budgets are slashed.

Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey

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