Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/nclexion/public_html/wp-content/themes/jnews/class/ContentTag.php on line 47
A new appointment booking system for urgent care is being trialled in England as part of efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Under the pilot, people with a non-life-threatening problem will be asked to phone the NHS 111 service to be triaged before attending an accident and emergency (A&E) department.
“These pilots will build on this and test whether we can deliver quicker access to the right care”
The patient will then be booked an appointment at the “most clinically appropriate service”, which may be A&E, an urgent treatment centre, general practice or a mental health professional.
The government said the booking system would be “safer and more convenient for patients as it will reduce the amount of time spent in waiting rooms”.
It is also hoped that by cutting out unnecessary use of A&E it will be ease pressure on the NHS this winter and reduce transmission of Covid-19.
People will still be seen if they turn up at A&E without calling NHS 111 but they may have to wait longer than those with an appointment, warned the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Those with a life-threatening condition should continue to dial 999 immediately, it added.
Trials are now underway in Cornwall, Portsmouth, Hampshire and Blackpool and Warrington. If they are successful, the system could be rolled out nationally in December.
An additional £24m is being invested into NHS 111 to increase call handling capacity and to employ more clinicians for the service who can provide expert guidance.
At the same time, hospitals across England are being given a slice of £150m to expand or upgrade their A&E departments in order to improve infection control and manage patient flow this winter.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “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.”
“The UK government has a poor record when it comes to tailoring Covid-19 measures to the needs of BAME and other disadvantaged communities”
Professor Gurch Randhawa
Dr Cliff Mann, NHS national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said the new booking system would ensure “all patients can see the right clinicians in the right setting, and address the extra challenges posed by Covid-19”.
A public communications campaign, called Help Us Help You, is set to launch later this year to direct people to the right NHS service.
However, concerns have been raised about the potential impact of the new appointment system on certain groups of people, including older people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Professor Gurch Randhawa, professor of diversity in public health and director of the Institute for Health Research at the University of Bedfordshire, said: “The UK government has a poor record when it comes to tailoring Covid-19 measures to the needs of BAME and other disadvantaged communities.
“Triaging access to urgent care through the NHS 111 free-to-call phone line is no doubt intended to stop Covid-19 spreading in hospital waiting rooms,” he said.
“But it is a huge risk to the communities, especially older people, lower socio-economic groups, and BAME communities, that our research has consistently shown have difficulty accessing healthcare by phone and online.”
Meanwhile, the DHSC said a consultation would be launched before December on a new set of emergency care performance standards.
As part of the clinically-led review, controversial proposals have been put forward to scrap the blanket four-hour access target in A&E in favour of a new approach that prioritises the most acutely unwell patients.
For now, the existing standards will remain in place, said the DHSC, adding that changes would only be made on the basis of “strong evidence and after thorough consultation”.
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “We are pleased to have reached the consultation phase of how A&E performance is measured with a focus on the safe, timely care of the very sickest patients, and look forward to the publication of the proposals.”