HC Deb 26 October 1993 vol 230 cc678-9
3. Mr. French

To ask the Secretary of State for Health in how many hospital accident and emergency units medical staff are routinely made available to assess the seriousness of each case immediately on arrival.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Tom Sackville)

I cannot give my hon. Friend the information that he seeks in numerical form, but I assure him that there has been excellent progress around the country, including in his local hospital, in achieving the targets set under the patients charter for accident and emergency units.

Mr. French

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to immediate assessments by medically qualified staff as to the seriousness of an accident, a patient at an emergency unit also wishes to know how long he or she is likely to wait and where he or she stands in the queue? As the latter seems to be capable of being achieved at the delicatessen counters of supermarkets, will he please ensure that it is also achieved in our hospitals?

Mr. Sackville

I very much welcome my hon. Friend's advice, but he should remember that the giving out of tickets in an accident and emergency unit would not necessarily be appropriate as patients are not necessarily seen in the order in which they arrive. In his hospital and many others, there is now a formal system of triage by which patients are prioritised and seen in order, depending on the seriousness of their condition.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Will the emergency units be able to cope with more, clearly very urgent, cases of babies with neo-natal hypothermia when, as expertly forecast, more vulnerable babies in low-income families feel the effects of VAT on domestic heating? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that leading midwives have warned that there will be a sharp increase in deaths from that cause? What advice have Health Ministers given Treasury Ministers about that preventable tragedy?

Mr. Sackville

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about neo-natal intensive care. May I point out that accident and emergency units are now better equipped and better staffed to deal with all eventualities.

Dame Jill Knight

May I press my hon. Friend to look again at the suggestion from the conference of royal medical colleges last week to the effect that all cancer and heart patients ought to be assessed expertly as to the urgency of their needs? After all, accident and emergency patients are seen on the same day while some other patients have to wait up to six months for an appointment with a consultant. Will my hon. Friend please try to do something about that?

Mr. Sackville

I note what my hon. Friend says. Clearly, all urgent cases must be seen as a matter of priority. That must be sorted out between general practitioners and consultants.