08/08/2013 02:17 BST | Updated 08/08/2013 05:33 BST

Struggling Accident And Emergency Depratments To Get £500m Bailout

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. Over 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: "With over a million more people visiting A&E in the last three years, services and staff can find themselves under pressure during the busier winter period.

"While A&E departments are performing well this summer and at a level we would expect for this time of year, I want the NHS to take action now to prepare for the coming winter.

"The additional funding will go to hospitals where the pressure will be greatest, with a focus on practical measures that relieve pinch points in local services.

"By acting now, we can ensure doctors, nurses and NHS staff have the support they need and patients are not left facing excessive waits for treatment. "

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "This £500 million will help A&E departments to prepare for winter and give patients confidence that they can quickly access safe and reliable emergency care.

"We will do whatever it takes to make sure the best A&E care is there for every patient when they need it, and we're backing our hard-working NHS staff with the resources they need to deliver this."

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.

Dame Barbara Hakin, chief operating officer and deputy chief executive of NHS England, said: "NHS England welcomes this announcement of £250 million to help specific local health and care systems prepare for this winter.

"We will continue to work with our colleagues at Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to ensure money is targeted at areas where we believe it can best be used to improve services for patients and provide equity of access.

"This is also excellent news for the NHS 111 service. This service is now delivering good quality but this will allow us to put in place additional contingency for the winter period."

Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "These payments will be useful in the short term, but we need the system working together to tackle the challenges we are facing if we are to get a longer term solution.

"This money must be used to help divert work away from hospitals as well as to compensate trusts fairly for the extra work they are undertaking.

"This means that commissioners and providers - including community and primary care services - need to work together to get the best value possible out of this additional money, not just transfer financial risk between each other."

A spokesman for the British Medical Association (BMA) said: "It is right that the Government is finally listening to the concerns of doctors and patients but, at a time when they are demanding cuts of £20 billion across the NHS, this is nothing more than papering over the cracks.

"It is recognition that their austerity programme has hospitals facing ever increasing demands with diminishing resources."

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.

"David Cameron's A&E crisis is a symptom of wider problems in the NHS and care system, which this announcement will not address.

"He's spent the last three years taking £3 billion from patient care to spend on a pointless re-organisation of the NHS.

"At the same time, £1.8bn has been cut from council budgets for older people's care.

"This is now backing up through England's A&E departments.

"This is further proof you can't trust David Cameron with the NHS."