The Government will plough another £15m in to help the troubled NHS 111 helpline as part of its £500m bailout for stretched accident and emergency departments.
The bailout, announced this morning, is intended to help failing A&E departments identified as ‘pinch points’ and will be given over two years. The £15m for NHS 111 is intended to prepare urgent care services for the two next winters, the Government said.
However, the move was criticised by RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, who said the money should be used to support general practice, and the BMA, which said the money will do nothing more than ‘paper over the cracks’ caused by the £20bn real-term cuts the NHS is undergoing.
The Government intends the money to be used to improve the A&E departments themselves or be spent on other local services such as social care, to prevent unnecessary visits or longer stays in urgent and emergency wards.
Hospitals have already suggested the ways the money could be spent. These include minimising A&E attendances and hospital admissions from care homes, appointing hospital specialists in charge of joining up services for the elderly and funding seven day social work.
Other suggestions included funding longer opening hours for walk in centres; more money for pharmacy services and having a consultant review all ambulance arrivals in A&E so that the decision on what care is needed is taken at the earliest opportunity by someone with experience.
NHS England, Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority (NTDA) will work with the local NHS to identify the departments most in need of the cash boost
However, RCGP chair Prof Clare Gerada said the fund was only a ‘sticking plaster solution’. She added that while the Government was focusing on the crisis in emergency departments and ignoring the crisis in general practice.
She said: ‘This is a temporary, sticking plaster solution that will only plug the gaps in the short term when what we need is a long term solution and that is major investment in general practice.
‘GPs make 90 per cent of NHS patient contacts but receive only 9 per cent of the budget. General practice is the foundation stone of the NHS and stabilises the rest of the health service. If general practice was appropriately resourced and we had more GPs, we would be able to provide more care to patients in their communities, so that they do not have to go into hospital unless absolutely necessary.’
She added: ‘While the government continues to focus on the crisis in Emergency Departments, it is losing sight of the very real crisis in general practice. Our recent survey revealed that some GPs are routinely making up to 60 patient contacts in the space of a single day, that 85% of GPs think that the profession is in crisis and that nearly half can no longer guarantee safe patient care.
‘This is not sustainable. If general practice starts to crumble then the rest of the health service will collapse, with disastrous consequences for patient care. We call on the government as a matter of urgency to invest in general practice and those working in it, so that we can deliver real improvements for our patients.’
Dr Mark Porter, chair of BMA Council, 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 £20bn across the NHS, this is nothing more than papering over the cracks and is recognition that their austerity programme has hospitals facing ever increasing demands with diminishing resources.’
The news comes after NHS England launched its improvement plans for A&E departments, and health secretary Jeremy Hunt launched a review consider the possibility of GPs taking back out-of-hours care, after claiming that ‘inaccessible primary care’ was to blame for the rising pressure on A&E departments.
Commenting on the announcement, Jeremy Hunt, said: ‘This £500m will help A&E departments to prepare for winter and give patients confidence that they can access safe and reliable emergency care quickly.
‘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.’
Dame Barbara Hakin, deputy chief executive of NHS England, said: ‘NHS England welcomes this announcement of £250m 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.’