A rise in the proportion of patients waiting over four hours in accident and emergency departments in England – the highest quarterly figure since 2003-04 – has prompted a list of reasons for this recent breach of the government’s target.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has principally blamed lengthening waiting times on changes in general practitioners’ out of hours arrangements in 2003-04 and general difficulties for patients in obtaining speedy appointments with their GPs. Conservative MP Chris Skidmore suggested problems were down to changing population demographics – including immigrants’ use of emergency departments in place of general practice. On this, evidence suggests recent immigrants’ use of secondary care services is actually less than might be expected. An obvious reason for recent problems, however, is that demand is rising. But is it?