Suffers of coughs and colds are being urged to visit their high street pharmacy instead of using their GP or attending their local A&E unit, as part of plan to help the NHS manage unsustainable pressures this winter.
The call for patients to take the pressure off doctors came as the Health Secretary announced that hospitals and A&E units across England will receive £300m to help see them through “unprecedented extra demand” this winter.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the new funding could provide the equivalent of up to 1,000 extra doctors, 2,000 extra nurses and 2,500 extra bed spaces.
With many A&E units already running at “full stretch”, the injection of funds and call for patients to turn to their pharmacies reflects ongoing anxiety among health officials that the NHS is set to face a challenging winter with rising levels of flu and ward closures from norovirus outbreaks.
Mr Hunt said: “Winter has always been particularly challenging for the NHS. We have been thinking about it particularly hard this year because of the growing pressure on A&E departments.
”Emergency admissions are growing about three to four per cent year in, year out. We are very aware that over this winter there is going to be some real pressure there.”
In numbers: the NHS crisis
The £300m announcements, which follows £400m earlier this year, was made as it emerged that overstretched A&E units have missed official targets by failing to ensure that 95 per cent of cases were dealt with within the four-hour time limit, while Mr Hunt admitted that many hospitals are already struggling to find enough beds to meet admissions requirements. The latest figures from last week show that 104,100 patients were admitted to hospital, compared with 98,700 from the same week last year.
However the BMA Council said the funding was “recycled”, had merely been “earmarked” from existing Department of Health funds, and was not a new spending commitment from the Treasury.
Dr Mark Porter, chair of BMA Council, said: “This announcement is merely a sticking plaster. It masks the fact that a funding gap of £30bn is opening up in the NHS, and does not go far enough to address the underlying reasons why the system is under such extreme pressure.”
Alongside the earmarked funding, NHS England managing director Sir Bruce Keogh has called for the more patients to make use of their local pharmacy for coughs and colds.
He said, “In other parts of Europe pharmacies are very well used. Our GPs, frankly, during the winter feel really under strain with people coming in with coughs and colds. And a lot of that strain could be relieved if people use pharmacies more.”
On Thursday Mr Hunt said this new approach to “out-of-hospital care” was central to breaking a “cycle of continually having to do more to help out A&E departments” every winter, which he said was “not sustainable".
NHS in distress: Waiting times on the rise
Three in 10 Welsh patients waited longer than two months for a diagnostic in September, the latest NHS in Wales figures have revealed.
More than 22,000 people spent eight weeks or more waiting for crucial test, which included MRI scans, CT scans and cystoscopies.
The Welsh Government says it wants no patients to wait more than eight weeks for tests, but the new figures come amid a row of Welsh Labour’s handling of the NHS in Wales, with Conservative politicians in England attacking the performance of the health service in Wales.
This follows a damning report last month which showed that financial pressures on the Scottish NHS would hinder a drive to cut waiting times. The study from Audit Scotland found that spiralling costs and an ageing population would affect NHS Scotland’s “focus” on shortening waiting times.