Health boards are to receive an extra £9 million of funding to curb unnecessary hospital admissions and prepare A&E departments for the winter pressures, Nicola Sturgeon announced today.
Poor weather and seasonal increases in illnesses such as flu heap pressure on hospital wards during winter, while bed blocking presents a major challenge for attempts to meet NHS targets.
The new funding will go towards improving staffing cover, providing treatment in the community and making sure patients can be discharged at weekends as in the week, rather than having to remain in hospital until Monday.
More than 26,000 patients rushed to A&E during a single week in both November and March, according to NHS data.
Ms Sturgeon said: “A&E attendances last winter increased, yet emergency departments consistently improved their performance. This is testament to the immensely hard work and dedication of our NHS staff and follows a three year, £50 million unscheduled care fund which supported boards to make changes.
“The additional £9 million for this year will ensure patients get the best treatment in the most appropriate place, easing pressure on our A&E departments and maximising patient flows within hospitals which face additional admission demands in winter.
“With more and more people now living with long term conditions, and a growing number of older people with multiple and complex conditions, it is also vital that the NHS has robust preventative care plans.”
The First Minister made the announcement while visiting the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI), where staff have succeeded in freeing up nearly 3,000 bed days since 2012 by preventing unnecessary admissions.
Respiratory illnesses such as COPD where the airways are damaged are among the most common reasons for people to be admitted to A&E.
Dr Gourab Choudhury, clinical lead on COPD at the ERI, said: “People with COPD have breathing difficulties which can affect their day to day lives, and these can be far worse in winter when they are more at risk from colds and the flu.
“At least 30 per cent of patients with COPD could be cared for in their home surroundings, rather than requiring hospital admission, and in Edinburgh we have been working to improve the support available within communities through the development of a community based multidisciplinary COPD hub.
“The community team works closely with the team here at the hospital to assess patients, to encourage self-management and to quickly identify the right treatment when required. We have seen a real success in reducing the need for patients to be admitted to hospital, and are now looking at how we can extend this model of care across Lothian and Scotland.”
The move was welcomed by leaders in emergency medicine, who said keeping people out of hospital should be a priority.
Martin McKechnie, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Scotland, said: “We have seen a sustainable difference in terms of unscheduled care performance over the last year, with last winter seeing some of the best performance we have seen in a number of years.
“I also welcome the recognition and efforts by Government to focus on enhancing the community based support, which will see patients being treated in the most appropriate environment, avoiding inappropriate hospital admissions and easing unnecessary pressures on A&E and Assessment Units as we head into winter.”