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Published on November 7th, 2013 | by Oliver Campbell
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Prime Minister’s Questions: The A&E Crisis

Crisis was officially made Ed Miliband’s favourite word yesterday as he changed his direction of attack from the ‘cost of living crisis’ to asking David Cameron if he could ‘guarantee’ that ‘there won’t be an A+E crisis this winter’. This was a refreshing move by Miliband after continually hiding behind his energy price freeze proposal for the last few weeks. It also made for an interesting debate with Cameron denying Miliband’s claim, using the example of the NHS in Wales (which is run by Labour) to emphasise how Miliband is ‘too weak to stand up to poor health management (in wales)’, whereas ‘he stands up for the NHS’.

This is due to the problems that the NHS in Wales is currently facing. In September the auditor General of NHS Wales stated how there had been a ‘deterioration in emergency NHS care in Wales’.  This, the Conservatives argue, has been due to Labour cutting the NHS budget in Wales, which contrasts with NHS England where the Tories have maintained the budget.

However by hiding behind the failures of the NHS in Wales, David Cameron is in fact shooting himself in the foot. Firstly, despite Labour controlling the budget of the NHS in Wales, this budget is one that is received from Westminster. Shadow Welsh Secretary, Owen Smith, recently expanded on this by stating how the budget of the Welsh National Assembly has been cut by £2 billion, a cut that has meant ‘tough decisions’ have had to be made. These ‘tough decisions’ have led to the budget of NHS Wales being cut by 1%, however this is after years of increased investment and allows more money to be put into education.

Secondly, despite not directly cutting the health budget, wasted spending has been prevalent under the coalition government. Ed Miliband highlighted this, referring to the 2300 managers in the NHS that have received six figure pay offs, costing the government around £1 billion. This is exacerbated by the fact that many being laid off are then rehired as part of the reorganisation of the NHS. David Cameron did reply defiantly to these statements, speaking of the 5500 more doctors and 1000 more midwives in the NHS. However it cannot be ignored that 6000 nurses have received their P45s under the coalition, while the outgoing chief executive Sir David Nicholson has admitted that A+E departments in the NHS are facing great problems.

The Department of health has recognized these problems stating “We know that winter is a tough time for the NHS. That’s why we’ve acted early, investing an extra £250m to help A&Es cope with winter pressures.’ However the question does have to be asked whether these problems could have been minimalized or avoided if spending hadn’t been spent so clumsily.

However, Labour were still subject to a large amount of criticism, despite arguably winning the debate on the A+E crisis. Like last week, the Tories had effectively briefed their backbenchers to ask the right questions in order to help David Cameron. This week they focused on the issue of Unite, with the Prime Minister referring to them in an outrageously posh accent as ‘bully boys’. This is no doubt a thorn in Miliband’s side and the coalition will continue to bring this point up until Labour act on it. However with problems surrounding A+E and the cost of living, I can’t imagine the public will be that interested in the Unite issue over the next few months.

A number of other issues were also briefly discussed. The recent development that BAE shipyards would be losing jobs was one of these, with the Prime Minister confirming that 12000 jobs would be cut to 11000. However he did emphasise that more is being put into ship servicing over ship building, which can be seen in the £100 million being invested into Portsmouth’s dockyard. This is positive stuff in response to a tough situation from Cameron; with jobs always being lost once a large shipbuilding project is completed.

Green levies are also still going to be subject to scrutiny according to Cameron, however he will do his up most to ensure insulation programmes are maintained. Zero Hour contracts also came up and this is a problem that is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. Cameron continually mentions the million jobs him and his government have created, however the question does have to be asked: How many of those million jobs are zero hour contracts? This debate I imagine will continue to appear.

This week’s session therefore saw Labour bounce back from the grilling that they encountered last week. Despite an economy growing, David Cameron cannot hide from the problems he faces in the NHS and on the cost of living. This could not come at a worse time for the coalition, as the winter months will exacerbate both these problems. Miliband looks weakened when faced with questions about Unite, however the Tories need to realise that the British people care much more about health care and the cost of living. In extending today’s debate to problems surrounding the NHS, Ed Miliband has yet again touched on something that the majority will relate to. He no longer is starting to look like the ‘one trick pony’ that Cameron called him last week, so it will be interesting to see how the Tories react. After gaining mass support with their prize freeze, Cameron did eventually react, calling for the green levies he once supported to be rolled back. It will be interesting to see if he has a similar revelation over Miliband’s new ‘crisis’.

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About the Author

Oliver Campbell

Oliver is from Harrow and has just graduated from the University of Leicester with a degree in History. He is now volunteering at Catch21 Productions and is particularly interested in welfare policy and the influence of the media.

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