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£500m bailout for struggling A&Es
Struggling A&E departments are to be given a £500 million Government bailout to help relieve pressure in the coming months.
The cash, announced by Prime Minister David Cameron, will be spread over the next two years to prepare the service for winter and will include £15 million for the troubled 111 phone service.
The emergency care system has come under intense pressure, partly due to a rise in the number of people attending A&E. More than one million more people attend A&E than three years ago. Some experts have blamed issues in primary care, saying patients feel they have nowhere to turn once GP surgeries are closed. Major problems with the new 111 service for non-urgent care are also thought to have impacted on A&E.
Last month, MPs on the Health Select Committee said plans to tackle problems in A&E were not robust enough. The committee said it had been given "confusing" and "contradictory" information about what was being done and blamed staffing issues and rising numbers of patients.
The MPs' report found that just 17% of hospitals had the recommended level of consultant cover and highlighted problems with discharging patients and finding enough beds for those who needed to be seen. In the first quarter of this year, the NHS also missed its target to see A&E patients within four hours. More than 300,000 patients waited longer than they should have - a 39% rise on the previous year.
The new funding is aimed at A&E departments identified as being under the most pressure and will be targeted at 'pinch points' in local services. Hospitals have already put forward proposals aimed at improving how the service works, including taking into account how other services feed into it.
One way of relieving pressure could be to minimise A&E attendances and hospital admissions from care homes by appointing hospital specialists in charge of joining up services for the elderly. Other ideas include increasing the hours of operation at NHS walk-in centres and extending pharmacy services to keep people out of hospital. Consultants may also be called upon to review patients arriving by ambulance at A&E so that a senior level decision is taken on what care is needed at the earliest opportunity.
Mr Cameron said hospitals would need to work more closely with GPs and social care providers to relieve pressure on A&E departments. He told Sky News: "In the short term we're going to help them with an extra £500 million over the next two years. But what we really need to do is get our hospitals working more closely with general practitioners and with social care departments to make sure we treat more people more effectively in the community, as well as have them coming to A&E."
NHS England's medical director, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, is currently leading a review of urgent and emergency care and is expected to report in the autumn.
Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: "Today's announcement fails to mention the issue patients really care about - nurses on hospital wards. Hospitals are running without enough staff, yet thousands of nursing jobs have been axed on David Cameron's watch. It's time he got a grip."