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Embattled PM David Cameron faced a major parliamentary incident yesterday as his party faced allegations that a crisis at England’s A&Es caused by cuts to the service was hushed up.
A flushed Mr Cameron desperately ducked and dived in the Commons as he faced a cataclysm of criticism over his betrayal and battery of emergency departments that he once pledged a “bare-knuckle” fight for.
The Tory leader repeatedly denied any links to leaked emails and documents which appeared to raise the bar for hospitals to declare “major incidents.”
But his assurances failed to bury concerns that a string of Christmas alerts over overwhelming numbers of patient admissions have suddenly dried up — prompting suspicion that the Department of Health has silenced the service as election time nears.
Leaked guidelines and conversations from the West Midlands appeared to confirm a new push by NHS bosses to damp down the sense of crisis.
One email, reported by the BBC and said to be from the head of operations at a trust in the region, said the new rules “have been introduced by NHS England to effectively stop trusts from calling a major incident.
“Worth sharing with emergency department consultants as our hands will be tied in most cases if they wish to call a major incident for capacity reasons.”
An A&E consultant replied: “It strikes me as an attempt to dampen down the heat and media attention on the emergency departments and their major incidents.”
The guideline document, apparently from NHS England, lists a checklist hospitals must work through before deciding to shut their doors.
Consideration of the media and political consequences are both on the list.
A usually swaggering Mr Cameron turned a shade of red under relentless pressure from Labour leader Ed Miliband.
After giving the PM a battering over his “bare-knuckle” vow to save A&E and maternity departments that have since been shut, Mr Miliband declared: “We have 99 days to kick out a Prime Minister who has broken all his promises on the NHS.
“Today’s revelation shows once again that, under him, the NHS is in crisis and under strain.
“It is a crisis of his making and on his watch, which is why nobody will trust him with the NHS ever again.”
Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham challenged Tory counterpart Jeremy Hunt to come clean on his own involvement yesterday.
“He claimed patient safety should be the only consideration but a document specifically asks clinicians and managers to consider the political and media impact of making such a declaration.”
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