THE NHS in Scotland is adopting “innovative approaches” to dealing with the pressures of the busy winter period, Health Secretary Alex Neil said.
Mr Neil said the changes that are being brought in by NHS boards should help ensure “our health service is better prepared for winter”.
The health service has already been given more than £9 million from a £50 million overhaul of emergency and urgent healthcare services which aims to improve treatment times and patient care.
Last December more than 300 patients had to wait more than 12 hours to be treated in busy hospital accident and emergency (A&E) units.
Since then health boards across the country have introduced a number of changes, with NHS Grampian having adopted a new helpline for GPs to contact consultants in A&E departments to help determine if patients need to be treated in hospital.
Hospitals in NHS Lanarkshire, Fife, Forth Valley and Greater Glasgow and Clyde have new digital whiteboards which aim to improve the flow of patients through hospitals - with this being rolled out across the country by March 2014.
NHS Forth Valley is also introducing a new unit which aims to improve the experience the most frail patients have while NHS Borders is hoping to encourage innovation at morning leadership meetings.
Meanwhile, advice service NHS 24 is bringing in a new triage service and access to physiotherapy assessments over the phone, offering advice to patients as an alternative to attending their GP and out-of-hours clinic or A&E.
The difficulties health boards can face over winter are also being discussed at a planning summit today.
Speaking ahead of that, Mr Neil said: “We know that our health service can face added pressure in the winter months and NHS boards have to be ready to manage potential increases in demand.
“Our health service reviews its performance each winter, with planning under way before most people have even had a chance to think about their summer holidays.
“Last winter saw increased pressures including an early start to the norovirus season, an increase in respiratory illnesses and a rise in the number of people attending A&E in the peak of winter.”
He added: “We recognise that there are areas where we need to improve. That is why this year we are focusing on improving emergency care all year round.
“This will ensure we have the most appropriate systems in place to cope with ageing population and the pressures that winter brings.
“Today’s event will enable health boards across Scotland to share the plans that they have put in place ahead of the winter period and to highlight innovative approaches that have been put in place and are already working well.
“Some examples already in place include the roll-out of electronic whiteboards across Scotland, which work as a digital ward and allow clinicians to see how patients flow through the entire hospital system, enabling them to be discharged home quicker.
“NHS Grampian has also introduced a helpline where A&E consultants are on hand 24 hours a day to advise GPs, paramedics and nurse practitioners on whether a patient needs to go to A&E or whether they can be treated more appropriately elsewhere.
“However, I am not complacent and each winter brings additional pressures for the health service, but I hope these changes will help to ensure our health service prepared for winter.”