The health secretary told the Commons that up to 30% of people attending A&E were not urgent cases. This is probably true – but hasn’t he closed down the other services that could provide care for those people? [Image: Peter Byrne/PA.]

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, must really think we are all stupid. His latest claim relies on it.

He’s saying that the four-hour target for patients to be treated at hospital Accident & Emergency departments may be relaxed for people with less serious health issues.

He wants us to believe that the most seriously-ill patients will therefore be seen more quickly, and are more likely to be saved, because of this change – one that we are meant to believe is new.

But it isn’t new.

People with less serious issues already have no chance of being seen within the four-hour target – for a very obvious reason: Triage.

Every patient admitted to A&E is automatically assessed by medical or nursing staff and assigned a category that determines their priority for treatment and their waiting time.

These run from “Immediate Resuscitation”, for patients whose lives are in immediate danger, down to “Non Urgent”, for those whose conditions are not true accidents or emergencies.

The current demand means that those with less serious problems will already have to wait longer than four hours for treatment in hospitals that are overstretched.

So Mr Hunt is proposing something that is already happening. He is lying to us that it is new, and he is lying to us because he wants us to believe that our friends and relatives may be safer as a result.

No patient will be safer as a result of Mr Hunt’s comment.

And no patient, who has died as a result of services being overstretched, would have lived if his proposal had been put into operation – because it is the current situation, in fact if not by design.

Nothing he has said addresses the causes of the current situation.

For example, This Writer heard today that the Sustainability and Transformation Plan affecting Worcestershire Royal Hospital – where three preventable deaths took place last week – involved the closure of A&E at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, with patients being transferred to WRH. This would clearly make problems at WRH much worse.

My understanding is that the relevant health authorities have denied the claim – but the STP does not appear to be available for the public to see.

Also: It has been pointed out that many patients should not attend A&E as their injuries/conditions do not warrant it. Where else are they to go, though?

GP practices are already overstretched, with some people having to wait weeks for appointments to see their doctors. And funding for pharmacies is being cut, meaning people cannot even see a pharmacist for help with more simple matters.

These problems were all planned by Mr Hunt and the Conservative Party. They are Tory creations.

The humanitarian crisis in the English NHS is entirely their fault.

And all he can do is mouth meaningless suggestions.

Labour is right to say Mr Hunt is “watering down” the four-hour target.

It is a typical Tory strategy: First they claim that more can be done with less money, and then – when they are shown practical proof that this is not true – they re-write and downgrade the target.

The simple fact is that target-driven A&E departments will always fail at some point. Resource-starved A&E departments will often fail.

The answer is to ensure that proper resources are available and that non-emergency patients are diverted to the appropriate services – which must also be properly funded and resourced.

But Mr Hunt won’t do that. As This Site has already pointed out, he has given those resources to private ‘health’ firms as profits for their shareholders.

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