NHS 111 services are to be expanded to offer more access to specialist paediatric advice and urgent mental health support, as part of a plan to ‘help recover urgent and emergency care.’
The Government said that urgent care provided in the community will be expanded to ensure ‘people can get the care they need at home,’ without the need for a hospital admission and that the measures will be ‘aligned with priorities for primary care,’ including the forthcoming GP access recovery plan and the implementation of the Fuller stocktake report.
The two-year delivery plan for recovery announced today comes amid ‘record demand for NHS services’ and promises ‘boosted frontline capacity’, with 800 new ambulances, including 100 mental health vehicles and 5,000 more hospital beds, backed by a £1bn fund.
The new plans will see an increased number of clinicians – including retired staff and returners – working in NHS 111.
The services will run for at least 12 hours a day – responding to calls normally requiring an ambulance crew – and will mean people who have fallen or are injured can get care and treatment at home within two hours.
Parents and carers seeking health advice for children and young people using NHS 111 will have increased access to specialist advice, including support from paediatric clinicians who can help them manage illness at home or decide the best route for their care.
This will see some children referred directly to a same-day appointment with a specialist rather than attending A&E, which NHS England said would avoid unnecessary hospital admissions.
Direct access to urgent mental health support using NHS 111 is also being rolled out with people being able to select the mental health option when they call up for help.
NHS 111 will also be integrated into the NHS app to make it even easier for people to use, the plan said.
Same day emergency care units, staffed by consultants and nurses, will be open in every hospital with a major A&E, allowing thousands of people to avoid an overnight hospital stay.
The plans will also see a new scheme embedding family support workers across selected A&E sites – with at least one in every region – to provide support to children with non-urgent issues.
How does the urgent care plan affect GP services?
Last year’s Fuller stocktake recommended enabling ‘primary care in every neighbourhood to create single urgent care teams and to offer their patients the care appropriate to them when they pop into their practice, contact the team or book an online appointment’.
The stocktake said this would require a shift in national policy towards 111 and organising a ‘single integrated urgent care pathway’.
Today’s plan said: ‘NHS England will undertake an extensive review of 111 services, including intensive trials of “111 First” following lessons learnt in the 2019 pilot.
‘It will test the models and their effectiveness at directing patients to the clinicians and services who can best meet their needs with the minimum possible delay.
‘This review will be aligned with priorities for primary care, including for community pharmacy, the forthcoming GP access recovery plan and implementation of the Fuller stocktake report.
The 111 review will also ‘explore the potential to incorporate advancements in technology, including AI and machine learning’, the plan added.
‘NHS England will work with ICBs to increase 111 clinical input where it will have most impact, including to confirm which care setting is best for the patient providing better care for patients and reducing demand on emergency services.
‘We will ask ICBs during 2023/24 to commission the clinical assessment of a great proportion of NHS 111 Category 3 or 4 ambulance dispositions.’
Amanda Pritchard, the NHS chief executive, said: ‘The NHS has experienced the start of a winter like no other – the threat of the flu and covid ‘twindemic’ became a reality and that was alongside huge demand for all services – from ambulance and A&E services to mental health and GP appointments.
‘It is thanks to meticulous early planning and the hard work of NHS staff that despite these significant pressures, we have continued to deliver care to hundreds of thousands of people day in and day out.
‘Today we are taking our plans and preparations even further – building on the extra beds, call handlers and 24/7 control centres – and focusing on new and existing technologies and innovations to transform the way people access our services and ensure they get the most appropriate care for their individual needs.
‘Whether it is expanding our NHS 111 offer for families with young children, increasing virtual wards to provide hospital-level care at home, or providing people with the latest data on A&E waits so they can compare their local services, every one of these initiatives uses the power of data and digital solutions to support patients to access the best care for them and to relieve pressure on frontline staff.’
Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘Every day of every week, tens of thousands of people receive safe, high-quality urgent and emergency care. However, with the NHS under unprecedented pressure from high Covid and flu cases and the backlog from the pandemic, too many people are waiting too long in A&E or for ambulances.
‘Today’s plan which is backed by record investment aims to rapidly cut waiting times, helping to deliver on one of the Government’s five priorities, while giving patients the confidence that health and social care services will be there for them when they need them.
‘Building on the extensive preparations the NHS put in place ahead of this winter, the plan will boost the number of hospital beds, get more ambulances on the road, grow and support the workforce, ensure people are able to leave hospital in a timely way when ready, and expand new services in the community so people can be treated closer to home.’
An exclusive Pulse survey revealed today that around 22% of GP consultations are currently mental or physical health problems caused or exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.