05/02/2014 11:06 GMT | Updated 05/02/2014 11:59 GMT

Scurvy Is Returning To Britain, Labour's Andy Burnham Claims

There has been a sharp rise in cases of the ancient disease of scurvy, Labour has claimed.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham told the Commons it was one of a number of illnesses on the rise and putting pressure on A&E resources.

But government ministers rubbished his figures and accused him of "building his house on sand".

Scurvy is a rare condition resulting from not eating enough vitamin C.

Symptoms include small red-blue spots on the skin, followed by shortness of breath and severe joint pain, and it is treated with vitamin C supplements.

It was once common among sailors and pirates when fresh fruit and vegetables were scarce out at sea.

Burnham also claimed there been a rise in rickets, malnutrition, hypothermia and food-banks under the coalition Government, with the economic climate putting people under greater pressure and turning to A&E.

But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt contested Labour's claims that illnesses such as scurvy were driving congestion in A&E.

He told the Commons that figures show eight people were admitted to hospital - not just A&E - for scurvy in 2011/12 and 18 people in 2012/13.

He also dismissed claims there had been a winter crisis in A&E - and claimed the Government's record was actually better than the Opposition's had been.

Introducing the opposition day debate on the NHS, former health secretary Burnham said attendances to A&E increased by a "staggering" 633,000 between 2010 and 2013 under the coalition and questioned what is happening.

He told the Commons: "It is all too easy to reach for simplistic answers to this picture. In truth, it is complex and a range of factors have contributed to this rise. But it's possible to point to two underlying causes.

"One of those is clearly the general economic climate. People have been living under greater pressure and struggling with the cost of living. A&E has become the last resort for people who are not able to cope for a whole range of reasons.

"Speak to A&E staff and they will tell you that there has been a rise in people arriving at A&E who have a range of problems linked to their living circumstances.

Liberal Democrat former minister Jeremy Browne queried Burnham's claims on scurvy and told the Commons: "I was extremely concerned, especially as we're talking about not distorting the facts, with your initial analysis when you attributed part of the pressure on A&E to an outbreak in the number of scurvy and rickets cases in the country.

"I don't want anybody in my constituency or elsewhere to be unduly alarmed. So can you please put on the record what proportion of people reporting to A&E, including those who are not seen within four hours, are reporting because they have scurvy?

"You can give the numbers either in absolute numbers or in percentage terms, but I think it's important the House is not misled and we're given the unvarnished truth on that."

In his response, Health Secretary Hunt addressed the claims of scurvy-related A&E admissions.

He told Mr Burnham: "For 2011/12 - this is not just A&E, it's across all admissions - eight people, and this was your big case as to why we have these pressures, and for 2012/13 18 people were admitted.

"With the greatest respect, you're building your house on sand."