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Hunt 'open to' charging A&E drunks

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had a "great deal of sympathy" for the idea of charging drunks money if they end up in A&E units.

He acknowledged that there were practical difficulties in introducing a charge, but insisted that people should be made to take responsibility for their actions.

Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for people who had gone "over the top" on a night out, he said.

He said: "I've always had the same view, which is basically that people should take responsibility and if it's through irresponsibility that they are costing all of us more as taxpayers then I don't have sympathy.

"There's a lot of people in the NHS we want to spend money on but we can't because we have limited resources."

He told LBC Radio: " I have a great deal of sympathy for the people who say we should charge people who use A&E because they go over the top on a Friday or a Saturday night.

"I don't see why we, as taxpayers, should be funding that.

"I think the difficulty is actually distinguishing between the people who end up in an A&E department - perhaps they have been abused, they come from a troubled family - and the heartbeat of an A&E in any hospital, rightly, and I think everyone understands this, is they treat sick people who arrive in an emergency situation as quick as possible.

"So it's practically very difficult. But if you are asking me, in terms of am I sympathetic with the sentiment, if there was a way that you could actually identify people who had been irresponsible, I would be open to it."

Mr Hunt acknowledged that emergency departments were under a "lot of pressure" but "the real pressure is coming from vulnerable older people because of the ageing population".

During the phone-in show yesterday he was challenged by a Tory-voting cardiologist called Mick, who claimed the Health Secretary was being "profoundly dishonest" about NHS privatisation.

Mr Hunt insisted: "There is no privatisation agenda. I don't believe the NHS will be privatised, ever.

"My party does not want that, nor do the other political parties. The facts stack up to show that.

"There have always been parts of the NHS where they've used the private sector. The market share of the private sector was 5% of all NHS spend when we came to office, it's actually increased to 6% so there's been a small increase."

But he added that the decisions on spending money in the private sector were made by local doctors "because that's what's in the interests of patients".

But Mick, who did not give his surname, said: "I think Jeremy Hunt is being profoundly dishonest to the public.

"The vast majority of the profession, the vast majority of the politicians, understand that we are being set up to fail."

He added: " They understand that the current model is unsustainable. I am not a conspiracy theorist, I'm simply someone who is working on the front line with the expectations and the targets set up for us are unachievable."

Mick, from Woodford Green, who said he was a cardiology trainee registrar, said the NHS was being "set up to fail so that people will accept the alternative and come to a realisation that there has to be some form of further injection of money, be it privatisation, put into the NHS".

He added that the private sector would "cherry pick" the profitable work from NHS hospitals.

But Mr Hunt said: "I am incredibly proud of the NHS but the reason for the pressure you talk about, this pressure throughout the whole system, is because demand for NHS services has continued to rise by about 3% to 4% a year at a time when, because of the financial crisis that we have been dealing with and the deficit, we haven't been able to increase the NHS budget by the same rate.

"But despite that, take something like cancer - we are treating around 100,000 more people for cancer this parliament than in the last parliament.

"That is something the NHS can be really proud of in the very, very difficult financial circumstances .

"I'm proud of what is being achieved, I think we will go on to go from strength to strength and I want to back the doctors and nurses who are working very hard to make that possible."

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