Avoiding A&E waits ‘will be tough’
Saturday 7th September 2013, 5:21PM BST.
It will be “very, very tough” to avoid a repeat of long waits in A&E units this winter despite a £500 million Government bailout designed to ease pressures, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted.
Mr Hunt said he was determined to ensure hospitals met targets and was taking action to support front line services facing unprecedented patient numbers.
“It is going to be very, very tough,” he told Sky News.
“But we can get through this winter. It is entirely possible to meet A&E targets, and I am determined we should.
“A lot of things are happening to give support to the front line. But that’s not to say we are not worried about it, because it is going to be very tough, and we understand that.”
He spoke as a poll – commissioned by the channel to coincide with a weekend of live coverage from an A&E unit in Nottingham – found two thirds of voters believe there is a crisis and patients are being put at risk.
The survey, by Survation, found 65% blamed Government cuts for any staff shortages and poor levels of care – with 75% saying doctors and nurses were doing their best while being overworked.
But 65% said consultants should be forced to work weekends and nights to ease the crisis – with 43% backing pay cuts for any who refuse.
There was strong support (72%) for forcing people to pay extra for the treatment of drink or drug-related injuries and 90% said cash should be saved by stopping NHS-funded breast enlargements and tattoo removals.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced the two-year funding boost – which includes £15 million for the troubled 111 phone service, in August.
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.
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.
The national director for acute episodes of care for NHS England, Professor Keith Willett, told Sky: “Safety is the priority.
“We will do everything we can to maximise the way patients receive their care as quickly and optimally as possible.
“But it is a pressured system and we have to work within the envelope we have and the skills and staff we have.”
Survation polled 1,106 adults between September 2-3.