Doctors’ leaders have said that the Government is prompting “an over simplistic and inaccurate” picture of the current pressures facing hospital A & E Departments. The BMA has requested an urgent meeting with the Health Secretary regarding this and has said that poor out-of-hours GP services in England are among factors behind the problems. The BMA is furious about what it calls an unhelpful blame game.

Mr Hunt, the Health Secretary, said in a speech to Age UK this week that the pressure on A & E departments was the biggest challenge facing the NHS. He was told that casualty staff said that poor out-of-hours GP services were part of the problem as well as the lack of beds for admitting patients.

In Mr Hunt’s view the last Labour Government’s decision to allow GPs to opt out of after hours care was “disastrous”. He also spoke to the BBC and denied that he was blaming doctors but felt that we needed a fresh look at the out-of-hours system. Mr Hunt said that GPs know their patients best and he doesn’t think they should necessarily be the ones who provide that out-of-hours service all the time because they work very hard anyway but he said: “I do think they would know better how to provide that service”.

Under the recent changes, overall control of out-of-hours service now lies with officials at NHS England rather than the Department of Health and BMA’s Chairman, Dr Mark Porter, acknowledged that services could do better but that a constructive way forwarded was needed. “It’s true that emergency department and out-of-hours services need to improve but I don’t think we will be able to do that if, instead of looking at complex system causes for what’s going on, we blame individual groups of staff and say they are not performing up to par”. Dr Porter and other senior doctors at the BMA have written to Mr Hunt saying his depiction of the situation is “simplistic and inaccurate” and they say he appears to be laying responsibility for the current pressures with GP’s.

This debate comes after nurses at this week’s RCN’s Annual Meeting warned that A & E Units were struggling with rising numbers. Some hospitals were so busy that they were having to set up temporary waiting areas and are diverting nurses to care for people waiting in queues. NHS England is already carrying out a wider review of how urgent and emergency care is provided, which is due next month.

Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashton KCJ, says: “I think it is common sense that in a perfect world GPs should treat their patients out of hours. I don’t consider it was a good move to have cut their hours from 9 to 5, leaving out of hours patients with locum doctors who do not know them, who are often pulled in at the last minute, and who have not always provided the best service. This means for the patient that there is a lack of continuity and we know that this can cause major problems”.