On Sunday 8th September the NHS Confederation will publish a report that provides a snapshot of the pressures facing NHS organisations in urgent and emergency care. The report is based on the latest national statistics and the results of one of the biggest member surveys we’ve ever carried out.
The huge response to our survey from NHS leaders is more proof (if we needed any) that pressures on A&E is a critical issue for the NHS. What our research has also revealed is that our members are clear on the cause of these pressures, and are even clearer on the solutions. We will be publishing the report in the coming weeks, and I plan to take its strong messages to all of the main party conferences, so that politicians hear firsthand what the NHS wants to happen next.
Winter is coming and there are growing concerns among our members that many emergency departments will buckle under the strain. Overburdened emergency departments are often the most visible sign of pressures being felt across the whole system; not just in hospital wards and waiting rooms, but in community clinics, GP surgeries and care homes. If we are going to tackle these problems, we need change across the whole service. Anything else is just papering over the cracks.
The Prime Minister recently announced an extra £500 million over the next two years to help struggling emergency departments prepare for winter. Extra money from the Government to help ease these pressures is of course welcome. But on its own this cash won’t be enough. For one thing, our members tells us that the winter funding money they receive is often given too late in the year to allow them to plan effectively. Allocating this funding earlier in the year would be a simple way to make a big difference.
Crucially, we need to ensure any investment in A&E is used in the right way. It must be spent on things that reduce the demand for urgent or emergency care. That could mean better help for people with long-term conditions, like diabetes, to manage their condition effectively. Or it could mean money for falls services, which help prevent vulnerable, older people from falling over in their own homes – a big cause of many emergency admissions.
Many of our members are already doing lots of good work to do this effectively, but scaling it up across the whole of the health service will require a big cultural and policy shift. A key part of this will be creating incentives for NHS organisations to focus on prevention, and to invest in services outside of hospital, which are better suited to people’s changing needs. Commissioners and providers, including community and primary care services, will need to work together to get the best value possible out of local NHS resources. We’ve set up the Urgent and Emergency Care Forum to help our members do just that, and they will be doing some more in-depth work into this and other issues over the coming year.
Quite simply, channelling more money into struggling emergency departments is a sticking plaster solution. We need real change across the board if we are to tackle the rising pressures that face the whole health service, not just urgent and emergency care.
Mike Farrar is chief executive of the NHS Confederation. Follow us on Twitter @nhsconfed
Download the report on our website on Sunday 8th September www.nhsconfed.org/urgentcare
Discovering whole-system solutions for urgent and emergency care
The NHS Confederation’s Urgent and Emergency Care Forum is hosting an event in November to bring together all sectors of the NHS to build long-term, whole-system solutions to managing demand for unscheduled care.