A&E crisis is a perfect storm

JEREMY Hunt, the quietly-spoken Health Secretary, made a profound point after presiding over the worst A&E waiting times for a decade. Despite his disappointment, he did state the fact that more than 90 per cent of patients continue to be seen within the four-hour target – and that this represents the best measured performance of any major Western country.

Mr Hunt’s unflappability also offers a stark contrast with the serial scare-mongering of his opposite number Andy Burnham. Emergency services in England are still out-performing Labour-run Wales by a significant margin, in spite of the unacceptable performance being experienced at hospitals like Hull Royal Infirmary.

It’s not as simple as pouring more money into the NHS, the now daily call made by Mr Burnham, because the coalition has found significant extra resources to tackle winter pressures. One reason why hospitals treated 300,000 more patients between October and December, compared to the corresponding quarter in 2013, is because of shortcomings within the out-of-hours care service provided by GPs and others – a state of affairs not helped by the last Labour government – and the preponderance of people going to A&E with the most minor of ailments.

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It is compounded by the 500 fully-trained A&E staff who have chosen to move to Australia – the reasons for this exodus need to be understood – and the fact that a disproportionate number of hospital beds are occupied by frail pensioners who cannot be discharged because of inadequacies within the social care system. This has all contribution to the creation of the NHS perfect storm in which hospitals, like Scarborough, have had to limit admissions.

Of course, the delays are disturbing to those seriously ill people having to wait on ambulance trolleys for lengthy periods. That should not be happening, and this is clearly a critical time for A&E units stretched to the limit. But it does also need to be remembered that the NHS is a world-leading organisation and that the best prescription is evolution rather than revolution as it looks to establish new working practices to help to meet the demands of an ageing society.

Labour lessons

No exclusivity on school reform

THE realism being shown by Tristram Hunt, Labour’s education spokesman, is refreshing. He’s not promising an empty cheque and he also recognises that the issue of school standards is far more complex than the tinkering of the Department for Education’s funding criteria to suit certain demographics, whether they be urban or rural.

Yet, while it remains to be seen whether Labour’s proposed school commissioners will be more effective than Ofsted’s current inspectors, it is imperative that the next Government provides the necessary support so Yorkshire no longer languishes at the bottom of a myriad of national league tables.

In this regard, Mr Hunt is right. The problems are deep-rooted and will only be solved by schools, and others, working together across the region to share best practice so more youngsters leave school with the skills that will enable them to prosper in later life.

The priority is putting in place a structure that enables this process to begin now rather than after the election. After all, improving academic attainment in Yorkshire should not be a party political issue – there should be no exclusivity when it comes to new ideas or innovation.

Sat-nav stupidity

Forgotten skill of map reading

THERE is no doubting the fact that sat-navs have made it easier for motorists to travel from A to B with the minimum of fuss. Yet they have been introduced at a cost to road safety – and that is the number of drivers who admit to undertaking sudden manoeuvres, and endangering others, because they have not been paying attention to their gizmo on the dashboard.

Yet part of the problem is the extent to which sat-navs have been allowed to become a substitute for map-reading and an appreciation of basic geography. For, if drivers had a better sense of direction and also understood the contours of the land, they would be able to spend more time concentrating on the road ahead rather than waiting to be told when to perform a hasty u-turn.

After all, an over-dependence on the sat-nav is usually to blame when drivers find themselves stuck down a country lane because they have failed to take the trouble to check the route in sufficient detail before setting out.