Hunt A&E row prompts call for politicians to lead by example

Senior NHS figures must send the right messages to patients about appropriate use of urgent care, a top GP has warned, after the health secretary admitted taking his child to A&E to avoid waiting for a GP appointment.

Jeremy Hunt: took child to A&E to avoid wait for GP (Photo: JH Lancy)
Jeremy Hunt: took child to A&E to avoid wait for GP (Photo: JH Lancy)

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday in response to a question on extending GP access, Jeremy Hunt said people did not always know whether the care they need is urgent or an emergency, and that making GPs available at weekends would relieve pressure on A&E. 

‘I took my own children to an A&E department at the weekend precisely because I did not want to wait until later on to take them to see a GP,' he said.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said he sympathised with Mr Hunt’s situation and had no wish to enquire about the personal circumstances. But he said the comments appeared to be at odds with NHS advice on appropriate use of emergency services which ‘in advance of a potentially difficult winter in the NHS, could add pressure to already overstretched A&E services’.

Contradiction of advice

‘Your statement in the House implies that it is acceptable for the public to use A&E on an on-demand basis or as a substitute for GP services. You will be aware that this is in contradiction with the official advice on NHS Choices,' said Mr Burnham.

Mr Hunt should consider returning to the House to reaffirm the official advice, added Mr Burnham. 

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said it would be wrong to enquire about the reasons why Mr Hunt took his child to A&E, but that the complex urgent care system was often difficult for patients to understand.

‘The reality is that the vast majority of patients make the right choice when they seek urgent help from the NHS, but as was recently reported the complexity of the current system makes it very difficult for many patients to understand the urgent care system, let alone navigate it.’  

He added: ‘It's vital therefore that everyone involved in the NHS sends the right messages to patients and helps them to use the most appropriate service when they need it.’

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