POLITICS

Labour's Andy Burnham Admits 'Problems' With GP Contract, But Not To Blame For A&E Crisis

25/05/2013 16:56 BST | Updated 25/05/2013 16:58 BST

Shadow health minister Andy Burnham has admitted there were "problems" with the GP out-of-hours service reforms introduced by the Labour government, but has insisted the policy is not to blame for the steep increase in people going to A&E.

Writing in a blog for The Huffington Post UK, Burnham, a one-time Labour leadership candidate, said it was "a political smokescreen" to blame the 2004 GP contract.

"Yes, in places, there have been problems with GP Out Of Hours services. But, in 2009, five years after the introduction of the GP contract, 98% of patients were seen within four hours in A&E.

andy burnham

Andy Burnham has attacked Jermy Hunt for trying to divert the blame for the A&E problems

"It is in the last two years that standards have dipped - under the government's watch - and in the last year that there been a sharp deterioration. If today's problems are all down to a contract signed nine years ago, why have they only surfaced now?" he wrote.

Burnham quoted Mike Farrar, Chief Executive of the "normally reserved" NHS Confederation, as saying he saw "no correlation" between A&E four-hour performance and the 2004 GP Contract.

READ ANDY BURNHAM'S BLOG IN FULL

In the House of Commons on Monday, Hunt said that the latest figures showed more than 96% of patients were being seen within four hours and people are waiting on average 55 minutes for treatment.

"But if A&E services are to be sustainable, we need both short term and long term measures to address the underlying causes for the pressure they are under," he said.

"Changes the Labour government made to the GP contract took responsibility for Out-Of-Hours care away from GPs. Since then 90% - you may not like to hear the facts about the consequences of those changes - opted out of providing out of hours care and they got a pay rise in addition.

"And as a result of those disastrous changes to the GP contract we have seen a significant rise in attendances at A&E, indeed four million more people are using A&E than when that contract was changed."

Burnham said that the "crisis in A&E that isn't going away" and that "extra funding is urgently needed to shore up collapsing social care services - in my view the primary driver of the A&E problem.

"The consequences of the government's decision to cut councils to the bone is now being felt.

"Councils of all political colours are having their budgets slashed and are not able to provide the necessary care and support, particularly to help older people stay at home. As a result, people are failing to cope and presenting at A&E as emergency admissions."

"The problem is compounded at the other end of the process. Even when people are ready to return home, they are often delayed as home-care can't be arranged. So beds remain full. This increases pressure on A&E as it can't admit people to the wards. And, in turn, A&E becomes full and ambulances have to queue outside.

"This is why A&E is the barometer of the whole health and care system. Whenever and wherever there is a blockage, the pressure backs up through A&E. And this explains why the challenges facing Jeremy Hunt go way beyond GP Out Of Hours services."

On Friday, the chairman of the British Medical Association accused Hunt of being "childish" by blaming GPs.

Dr Buckman told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “[Jeremy Hunt] keeps on tweeting and speaking a childishly superficial and misleading analysis of a very complex problem.

“The biggest problems have been recently, and stoked by the incessant accusation it is something to do with GPs.

“People who go to A&E are not going because of GPs. There is no doubt some of it is because people are confused about how to get access to out of hours services and some of it is because NHS 111 is sending people there.

“But some of it is about a rapid rise in demand.”