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Why did Jeremy Hunt take his children to A&E?



Well, you’ve probably read the transcript by now of what our mate Jezza said during health questions yesterday, but just in case you haven’t, here it is: ‘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. We have to recognise that society is changing and people do not always know whether the care that they need is urgent or whether it is an emergency, and making GPs available at weekends will relieve a lot of pressure in A&E departments.’

Interesting. I’d like to unpick this, if I may.

1 ‘I took my own children to an A&E department at the weekend.’ So much for confidentiality. So the little Jezzlets are all under five, true, but aren’t they entitled to medical privacy? Did their dad ask for their consent? After all, they may have capacity – their mother’s pretty bright.

2 ’…my own children…’ Plural. All of them. Three, last time I counted. So let’s think. If they were all ill, that would be some sort of infectious illness, wouldn’t it? Unlikely that all three should fall foul of something dreadful simultaneously, so that leaves us with ailments along the lines of, let’s think, probably D&V, or an URTI. So they’re being dragged to A&E – that’s ‘accident’ and ‘emergency’, Jeremy – for the squits, or a cold. Probably.

3 ‘Because I did not want to wait until later on to take them to see a GP.’ So this couldn’t wait for a routine appointment? Dad’s too pressed to take them to the GP in normal working hours for a triple appointment? What, like he’s too busy running the NHS or something?

4 ‘We have to recognise that society is changing and people do not always know whether the care that they need is urgent or whether it is an emergency.’ So people are getting so dumbed down that they don’t know that “urgent” and “emergency” are the same thing? And that a minor viral illness is neither?

5 ‘Making GPs available at weekends will relieve a lot of pressure in A&E departments.’ Not if I’m full of people at the weekend bringing minor illness which doesn’t need medical attention at all, or which could wait for a routine appointment, in which case you will go to A&E anyway because you will not want to “wait until later on to take them to see a GP”.

6 ‘With a million calls a month, NHS 111 is helping the NHS deal with growing demand by directing people to the most appropriate place for their injury or illness.’ Well spotted. He didn’t actually say that yesterday. But he did say it about a month ago. Which makes you wonder why he didn’t phone NHS 111 at the weekend, as advised on NHS Choices, which Jez may have heard of, even if he’s never heard of the national phoneline. Actually, maybe I know why. NHS Choices states that NHS 111 is appropriate for something that is not “an immediate emergency”. And how was Jeremy to know whether this almost certainly trivial childhood viral illness was urgent, an emergency, or an immediate emergency? It’s tricky, isn’t it?

So, six examples of the illogical, the inappropriate and the health-illiterate in the space of five sentences. Which sounds bad. But give him a break. He’s only the health secretary. And his kids are ill, remember?

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield