The pressures on A&E departments show “no sign of abating” Labour has warned, after figures revealed a “major increase” in the number of ambulances turned away from busy emergency departments.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the number of hospitals which have been forced to turn away patients in need of emergency care rose by 24% in the last year.
Figures obtained by Labour from the House of Commons Library show that, in 2011/12, 287 hospitals in England reached capacity and were no longer able to accept any new patients brought in by ambulance - apart from cases deemed to be life threatening.
But in 2012/13, the number of A&E “diverts” rose to 357, Labour said.
On Bank Holiday Monday, the Royal Liverpool Hospital was forced to divert patients to nearby hospitals, Mr Burnham said.
The GMB union said that over recent weeks some hospitals in Essex, Kent and London have been forced to turn ambulances away.
A&E diverts, where an emergency department has temporarily closed because of the lack physical space and/or staff capacity to deal with any additional patients, should only occur as a “last resort”, according to official guidance.
Mr Burnham, who will be visiting an A&E department in Crewe, Cheshire, this morning, plans to hold an “emergency A&E summit” this afternoon in Westminster.
“A&Es across the country are in crisis and the pressure shows no sign of abating,” he said.
“Today we have yet more evidence that the situation has deteriorated significantly on this government’s watch, with ambulance diverts up by a quarter in the last year.
“This is a crisis of their own making. Instead of casting round for others to blame, David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt need to accept responsibility and develop an urgent plan to relieve the pressure.
“Labour is today calling on the health secretary to suspend all planned A&E closures pending a personal review. The facts on the ground are changing fast and call into question the wisdom and safety of closing so many A&Es across England.
“If convincing evidence can be produced to show lives can be saved by closing A&Es, Labour will not oppose them. But, as the pressure builds, the case is changing and the health secretary must err on the side of caution. The onus is on him to produce convincing evidence or drop these plans.
“Labour is calling an emergency A&E summit today as we want to hear directly from front-line staff about the pressures they are under. Too many hospitals are sailing dangerously close to the wind and MPs need to hear first-hand about the reality on the ground.”
Experts have recently said that emergency care systems could collapse in six months as a result of rising demand.
The College of Emergency Medicine (CEM) called for “fundamental change” in the way emergency care is run, warning that A&E units are facing their biggest challenge in more than a decade as departments grapple with “unsustainable workloads” and lack of staff.
And the Foundation Trust Network, which represents more than 200 health trusts in England, warned that A&E services were in danger of collapse in six months time as a result of “huge pressure”.
Officials at NHS England are examining the way urgent and emergency care is provided.
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