Another of our partner hospitals has been given a government cash boost to help towards the expansion of its A&E department ahead of winter.

University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire is to receive £3m, completing our trio of partner hospitals receiving funding. George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust (GEH) and South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust (SWFT) will also be given £3m and £2m respectively to help cope with the combined challenge of probable cold weather and potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced yesterday (September 16) that £18.8 million will be shared across emergency departments in four Midlands hospitals including Worcester Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust and United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

The funding will be used to expand waiting areas and increase the number of treatment cubicles, helping boost A&E capacity by providing additional space and reducing overcrowding. This is on of top of £300m recently announced for 117 UK Trusts to upgrade their facilities.

In the run up to December NHS England is launching a consultation on A&E performance measurements ensuring they reflect modern emergency care and deliver. This is part of its ongoing clinically-led review which has also been considering how to accurately measure performance while the service meets the continuing challenges of Covid-19.

A new pilot scheme is also running across England whereby NHS 111 is the first point of contact for accessing urgent medical care avoiding unnecessary A&E visits.

It will expand upon its role during the pandemic to direct patients to the most clinically appropriate service, including Emergency Departments, an Urgent Treatment Centre, a GP or mental health professional.

As a result of what works best during these pilots, the expansion of NHS 111 will be rolled out to all Trusts from this December. A new PR campaign ‘Help Us Help You’ will launch around the same time to direct people to the right NHS service.

NHS 111 will also book appointments for patients with the appropriate service to cut out unnecessary queuing.

Matt Hancock said: “We are investing £450 million to make sure our A&E departments are ready for winter. Hospitals around the country will be able to expand and upgrade to ensure they can continue safely treating patients in the coming months.

“During the peak of the pandemic we saw millions of people using NHS 111 to get the best possible advice on Covid-19, and other urgent NHS services. These pilots will build on this and test whether we can deliver quicker access to the right care, provide a better service for the public and ensure our dedicated NHS staff aren’t overwhelmed.”

But anyone facing a life-threatening emergency should continue to dial 999 immediately. If someone is unsure how serious a condition is then NHS 111 can offer advice and if necessary, dispatch an ambulance. A further £24 million is being spent on increasing 111 call handling capacity with more clinicians on hand to provide expert advice and guidance.

Each year there are 14.4 million A&E attendances in England arriving without referral by 111, a GP or in an ambulance, as well as 2.1 million attendances that do not result in any admission or treatment.

Dr Cliff Mann, NHS national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said: “While emergency admissions are now back to near normal levels and 999 calls are actually above usual, covid infection control means rethinking how safely to look after people who might previously have been to an emergency department for a more minor condition. Local teams are working hard to expand and adapt services to ensure people can continue to get the care they need safely, whether that’s in hospital or closer to home.

“This additional investment will help us continue the development of NHS 111 and provide a broader range of services, with direct booking that will ensure all patients can see the right clinicians in the right setting, and address the extra challenges posed by Covid-19 so that emergency departments can safely treat those patients who do require their services.”

Dr Katherine Henderson, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, added: “Expansion of NHS 111 will help patients to be seen more quickly by the service most appropriate to their needs.”

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