HC Deb 19 October 1999 vol 336 cc251-2
14. Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton)

How many emergency cases were treated by the NHS during the years to the end of March (a) 1999, (b) 1998 and (c) 1997; and if he will make a statement. [92597]

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Gisela Stuart)

The numbers of emergency cases treated by the national health service are as follows: in 1998–99, 3,904,162; and in 1997–98, 3,783,350. The figure for 1996–97 is not included as that year was the first that data were collected for admissions rather than consultant episodes and the data are not as reliable.

Mrs. Dean

I would also add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on her appointment to the Front Bench. I wish her well and I thank her for her answer. We must all be concerned about the number of emergency admissions to the health service. Will my hon. Friend tell the House how the Government are tackling that increase?

Gisela Stuart

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks.

It is the Government's long-term aim to provide alternatives to acute hospital admissions. While it is true to say that accident and emergency admissions have increased year on year, the increase of 3.2 per cent. in the last year represented a slower rate of increase than in previous years. The actions that we have taken include rapid response teams, which enable patients to stay in their homes while care packages are put together. More importantly, we should recognise that one of the Government's priorities is to invest in improved emergency services. To that end, we have invested about £150 million alone in the last year to improve facilities. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Queen's hospital in Burton has received about £1.6 million in the current year.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

In congratulating the Under-Secretary and her colleagues as well as my right hon. Friends on their new posts, I understand that the hon. Lady is to see representatives from the West Surrey health authority shortly. A recent casualty watch has found a series of patients waiting more than 20 hours at the Royal Surrey County hospital accident and emergency department. Last week, two parents told me that after their children had waited an hour and a half for head injuries to be examined at the department, they were told that it would be better to take them home and hope that all would be well. The situation has never been so bad in west Surrey. If, to the Labour party, tackling inequalities means driving through an unacceptable deterioration in services in the home counties together with hits on social services, the situation is not containable. The hon. Lady is driving people into the private sector and delivering an unacceptable level of care in the NHS.

Gisela Stuart

I am afraid that I cannot accept the right hon. Lady's assertions. If she would like me to pick up on particular cases involving hospital and trolley waits, I will be happy to do so. In general, the Government have improved not only the amount of funding for accident and emergency provision but winter planning, with which I am involved at the moment, to ensure that over the winter hospital services are improved—that provision has been better planned and better organised than ever before.