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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
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
Latest stories from i100
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

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz