A&E units would struggle to cope with winter flu outbreak, MPs warn

Shortages of senior staff, disorganised local services and botched launch of NHS 111 phone line all blamed

Health Reporter

Shortages of senior staff, disorganised local services and the botched launch of the NHS 111 phone line mean Britain’s A&E services would struggle to cope with a major flu outbreak this winter, MPs have warned.

In a damning report on urgent care provision in the NHS, the House of Commons Health Select Committee found that emergency services were becoming “unsustainable” as demand increased.

Less than in one in five A&E wards had enough consultants on duty and new trainees were turning away from emergency care because of the demands, the report said. The health service was “flying blind” with senior figures at odds over the scale and cause of the increased pressures on A&E, and local health leaders were unsure which organisation or health board had overall responsibility for how GPs, A&Es and social care should link up.

MPs said that urgent action was needed to get patients to see senior doctors more quickly, adding that each local area must have an urgent care plan in place by the end of September, before pressures increase again over the winter. 

Committee member Barbara Keeley MP said that major improvements to consultant cover, 111 and social care provision needed to be made urgently.

Pointing out that last winter, which saw nine-year highs in A&E admissions, had passed without a “pandemic” she said: “It doesn’t look as if we’re prepared for anything like that.”

As MPs published their report, it was announced that NHS Foundation Trusts will take on 10,000 more clinical staff next year, after an unprecedented number of trusts missed waiting time targets at A&E last year.

Stephen Dorrell MP, the committee chair, said that it was “extraordinary” that only 17 per cent of A&E departments could guarantee consultant cover for a minimum of 16 hours a day during the working week, with figures even lower at weekends.

“We know that early assessment by a senior clinician can improve outcomes and accelerate a patient’s progress through hospital, but for this to happen there must be sufficient numbers of senior staff in the emergency department,” he said.

The plans to recruit more than 1,100 new permanent consultants, 1,200 junior doctors and 4,100 nurses, along with additional healthcare assistants, paramedics, social care and theatre staff, will cost an estimated £500m.

Although trusts are under ever-increasing financial pressure, with 5 per cent of NHS staff being cut over the next three years, most of these losses are expected to be among clerical and agency staff.

In their report, MPs were scathing in their assessment  of the new NHS 111 phone number which they said had not only failed to reduce pressure on casualty wards, but had actually encouraged patients to see A&E as their “first port of call” to avoid a “laborious triage process” and call handlers who were not trained clinicians.

The MPs’ report comes ahead of another review into emergency care by the NHS’ medical director Sir Bruce Keogh. Mr Dorrell said that he hoped Sir Bruce would take their recommendations into account.

“The A&E department is the safety valve,” he said. “When demand for care is not met elsewhere, people go to A&E because they know the door is always open. It is vital to ensure that the needs of patients who don’t need to be at A&E are properly met elsewhere so that those who do need to be there receive prompt and high quality care.”

Health Minister Lord Howe said the Government’s first focus in response to increased pressures on A&E was on “joining up services” to provide better care for the elderly. The ageing population has led to an increasing the number of patients with complex care needs reporting to A&E wards across the country.  
"We know A&E departments are under increasing pressure and it is testament to the hard work and commitment of NHS staff that there has been a marked and sustained improvement in A&E waiting times,” Lord Howe said.

However, on the same day, new figures revealed that nursing numbers had dropped by nearly 1,000 in just one month between March and April this year, leading Labour to accuse the Government of “ignoring warnings” on understaffing. The number of full time nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff in the NHS now stands at 307,939 – 3,000 lower than when the Coalition government took office in May 2010.

The number of hospital and community doctors also fell by more than 900 in April. 

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "The NHS simply cannot continue to take nursing cuts on this scale and maintain standards of patient care. Job losses on this scale are dangerous.”

Next year’s investment in new clinical staff comes amid a broader cut to the NHS workforce of 5 per cent over three years, which the Government claims will be found predominately among clerical and agency staff.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

    C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

    £50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

    C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?