The NHS and the government will publish a new blueprint today to help recover urgent and emergency care services, reduce waiting times, and improve patient experience.
Frontline capacity will be boosted further thanks to 800 new ambulances, including 100 specialist mental health vehicles, and 5,000 more sustainable hospital beds backed by a £1 billion dedicated fund.
The two-year delivery plan for recovery comes amid record demand for NHS services, with the latest data showing more A&E attendances than ever before, growing numbers of the most serious ambulance call outs, and millions of NHS 111 calls a month over winter.
Urgent care provided in the community will be expanded to ensure people can get the care they need at home, without the need for a hospital admission.
These services will run for at least 12 hours a day – responding to calls normally requiring an ambulance crew – and will mean people who have fallen or are injured can get care and treatment at home within two hours.
Same day emergency care units, staffed by consultants and nurses, will be open in every hospital with a major A&E, helping to transform patients’ experiences and allowing thousands of people each week to avoid an overnight hospital stay.
Freeing up space in hospitals and speeding up discharge for those who are medically fit to leave are key parts of the blueprint, which will see pilots of a new approach to NHS step down care across the country – where patients will receive rehabilitation and physiotherapy including at home.
This scheme will ensure people have a smooth transition out of hospital, reducing the chances of re-admission while also potentially reducing long term demand on social care.
The success of ‘virtual wards’, where patients receive high-tech care in their own home is set to grow, with 7,000 virtual ward beds already in the community and up to 50,000 patients a month expected to benefit by the end of 2023/24.
Proven measures backed by clinicians and introduced as part of NHS winter planning will be expanded all year-round, with scaled-up falls response services and 24/7 system control centres 365 days a year, to help local areas track and quickly respond to pressures throughout the year.
Changes aimed at growing and better supporting the workforce will give NHS staff greater flexibility, making it easier for them to move between hospitals and work in services like 111, with more options for call handlers to work from home.
The number of emergency medical technicians will also be expanded, providing another entry route to working in the NHS, alongside greater use of student and apprentice paramedics and training more staff in mental health.
The two-year plan aims to stabilise services to meet the NHS’s two major recovery ambitions, to help achieve A&E four-hour performance of 76% by March 2024 and improve category two ambulance response times to an average of 30 minutes over the next year, with further improvement in the following year.
These ambitions represent one of the fastest and longest sustained improvements in emergency waiting times in the NHS’s history.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Health Secretary Steve Barclay will today set out the plans to deliver better patient experiences, in an A&E department in the North East.
NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said:
“The NHS has been under more pressure than I have ever known in my 25 years working in the service – the threat of the ‘twindemic’ of flu and covid became a reality and that was alongside huge demand for all services – from ambulance and A&E services to mental health and GP appointments.
“We are incredibly grateful to the NHS staff who work day-in, day-out to deliver care to hundreds of thousands of people and for the extensive preparations put in place ahead of winter.
“We introduced more call handlers, more beds and 24/7 system control centres to manage increased demand, and this new plan sets out how we will boost that progress and help improve the experiences of patients who will benefit from quicker, better care, in the right setting.
“The front door to the NHS is often where we can see the pressures build up – and to relieve that pressure, we will continue to work with social care colleagues to free up space in hospitals so that people who are well enough to leave can be discharged and get the care they need at home or in the community.
“The history of the NHS is one of change and innovation and so, while striving to meet the needs of today’s patients, we are also looking to the future of the NHS and will shortly set out our workforce plan – which is a once in a generation opportunity to put the NHS on a sustainable footing.”
The government is making up to £14.1 billion available for health and social care over the next two years, on top of record funding to improve urgent and emergency, elective, and primary care performance to pre-pandemic levels and to help alleviate the impact of inflation.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:
“Cutting NHS waiting times is one of my five priorities. Urgent and emergency care is facing serious challenges but we have an ambitious and credible plan to fix it.
“It will take time to get there but our plan will cut long waiting times by increasing the number of ambulances, staff and beds – stopping the bottlenecks outside A&E and making sure patients are seen and discharged quickly.
“If we meet this ambition, it will represent one of the fastest and longest sustained improvements in emergency waiting times in NHS history. I am determined to deliver this so that families across the country can get the care they need.”
The NHS, local government and the social care sector will continue together to improve access to social care and ensure patients can be discharged safely and on time.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:
“Every day of every week, tens of thousands of people receive safe, high quality urgent and emergency care. However, with the NHS under unprecedented pressure from high covid and flu cases and the backlog from the pandemic, too many people are waiting too long in A&E or for ambulances.
“Today’s plan, which is backed by record investment, aims to rapidly cut waiting times, helping to deliver on one of the government’s five priorities, while giving patients the confidence that health and social care services will be there for them when they need them.
“Building on the extensive preparations the NHS put in place ahead of this winter, the plan will boost the number of hospital beds, get more ambulances on the road, grow and support the workforce, ensure people are able to leave hospital in a timely way when ready, and expand new services in the community so people can be treated closer to home.”
Professor Adam Gordon, President of the British Geriatrics Society, said:
“Many people, especially older people with frailty and complex conditions, are facing long waits in emergency departments and on wards before being discharged from acute hospital.
“We at the British Geriatrics Society are pleased to support NHS England’s ‘Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan’ which addresses system-wide issues that go far beyond the hospital front door. The emphasis on care closer to home, alternatives to hospital admission, rehabilitation and person-centred care is very welcome.
“With the right funding, workforce and clinical leadership, it should make a real difference for users of health services, and start to make inroads on the delays and shortages that prevent timely discharge and community-based support for rehabilitation and recovery.”