Doctors challenge A&E criticisms

Patients waiting to see a doctor
Image caption Doctors and politicians are arguing over what is behind longer A&E waits

Doctors' leaders have said the government is promoting an "overly simplistic and inaccurate" picture of the current pressures facing hospital A&E departments.

The British Medical Association has asked for an urgent meeting with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt over the issue.

He has said that poor out-of-hours GP services in England are among factors behind the problem.

But the BMA is furious about what it calls "an unhelpful blame game".

'Fresh look'

Mr Hunt said in a speech to Age UK on Thursday that the pressure on A&E departments was the biggest operational challenge facing the NHS.

He said casualty staff had told him poor out-of-hours GP services were part of the problem - as well as a lack of beds for admitting patients.

And he said the last Labour government's decision to allow GPs to opt out of after hours care was "disastrous".

Speaking to the BBC, he denied he was blaming doctors - but called for a fresh look at the out of hours system.

"They know their patients best. And I don't think they should necessarily be the ones who provide that out of hours service all the time, because they work very, very hard anyway.

"But I do think they would know better how to provide that service."

Under the recent health service changes, overall control of out-of-hours services now lies with officials at NHS England rather than Mr Hunt's department.

Doctors are furious about what they see as "an unhelpful blame game".

'Struggling' units

The BMA's chairman of council, Dr Mark Porter, acknowledged services could do better- but he said a constructive way forward was needed.

"It's true that emergency department and out of hours services need to improve - but I don't think we'll be able to do that if instead of looking at complex system causes for what's going on, we instead blame individual groups of staff and say they are not performing up to par."

Dr Porter and other senior doctors at the BMA have written to Mr Hunt saying his depiction of the situation is "simplistic and inaccurate", and they say he appeared to be laying responsibility for the current pressures "with GPs".

The debate comes after nurses at this week's Royal College of Nursing annual meeting warned that A&E units were struggling with rising numbers.

Delegates said some hospitals were getting so busy that they were having to set up temporary waiting areas and divert nurses to care for people waiting in queues.

NHS England is already carrying out a wider review of how urgent and emergency care is provided, which is due next month.

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