According to statistics, at the same time that NHS Direct cut 1,200 jobs (between 2009/10 and 2012/13) there were 120,000 more A&E attendances than there were in the last year of the Labour government.
The coalition had said the massive pressures on A&E departments could be attributed to the fact that 4m more people now use the service – often as an alternative to waiting for an appointment to see their GP. The blame was also put on GPs no longer doing out-of-hours work, although this has been disputed.
NHS Direct is being replaced by the 111 service which has been severely criticised and faced several set-backs. These issues have contributed to the increased number of people using A&E, according to Suresh Chauhan of 38 Degrees, which describes itself as “one of the UK’s biggest campaigning communities with over 1m members”.
Chauhan said: “The real cause of this crisis is a policy decision made by this government when it came to power in 2010. They decided to dismantle the NHS Direct service which triaged out-of-hours calls for medical aid. This service, called the 0845 line, had been working for a few years then and had an impressive record of processing the calls by listening to actual problems and giving appropriate guidance.”
In response to the government’s claims, the former health secretary Alan Milburn was quoted in the Guardian as saying: “It’s complete nonsense and totally spurious to claim a deterioration in accident and emergency performance which only took effect in the last 18 months can somehow be tracked back to a GP contract change from 2005. Jeremy Hunt is blaming the wrong government. He has to explain how the NHS managed to improve accident and emergency performances despite an increase in the numbers of people attending up until 2010, but has since failed to do so.”