Theresa May: Accident and emergency should not be used for minor ailments
Downing Street today urged people not to visit accident and emergency units with minor ailments as the row continued over the four-hour target for treatment.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was accused yesterday of ditching the commitment after he said it should only apply to "urgent" cases.
His comments came after the Red Cross claimed the NHS was facing a "humanitarian crisis" because it could not cope with the huge winter demand.
"It is clear we need to have an honest discussion with the public about the purpose of A&E departments,” he told MPs.
"There is nowhere outside the UK that commits to all patients that we will sort out any health need within four hours."
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth accused the Government of "rewriting and downgrading" the pledge.
The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman today insisted ministers were "committed to protecting the four-hour standard for A&E", but said the public must play their part as well.
"The point the Health Secretary was making in the House yesterday was a point the Government has made before, which is about making sure that A&E is there for what it says on the tin - accident and emergency," she said.
"It's not about non-urgent care. Accident and emergency is for dealing with emergencies and for urgent care. There is a four-hour target that we want to protect for accident and emergency.
"The Health Secretary was making the point that when you're dealing with record demand for accident and emergency it is important that we are making sure that it is there to provide the people who need that urgent care with that service.
"There is more to be done to make sure that the public understand where they should be going to for the services that they need to access.
"I understand what accident and emergency should be about. If I have a cold I'm not going to go to accident and emergency and expect to be treated for a cold within four hours."