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27/09/13 09:01

NHS winter planning

Health boards prepare for increased pressures.

Improving emergency care all year round is the key to ensuring the NHS is ready for winter, Health Secretary Alex Neil said today.

Speaking at a planning summit for health teams from across Scotland today (Friday), Alex Neil said that the Scottish Government has worked closely with NHS boards and taken important steps to improve emergency care since last winter.

This is part of the three year £50 million unscheduled care action plan, which aims to improve the way that emergency care operates across Scotland 365 days a year.

Over £9 million of this money has already been released to health boards to support their planning, which is triple the amount given to boards for winter planning last year.

Local plans are also now in place across the country, and this money is being used to recruit additional staff, including additional A&E consultants, and to introduce innovative measures, such as rolling out the use of digital whiteboards to improve the flow of patients throughout hospitals.

NHS Grampian has set up a local helpline with an A&E consultant available 24 hours a day to offer advice to GPs, paramedics and nurse practitioners, and NHS Forth Valley are introducing a Frailty Unit, which will offer new integrated assessment pathways for frail elderly patients.

NHS 24 are also introducing a new triage service and access to physiotherapy assessment by phone, offering advice to patients as an alternative to attending GP, out of hours or A&E, and have used some of their funding to help develop the clinical skills available to NHS 24 callers.

Speaking at the event, 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 underway 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.

"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."

It is also essential that patients know who to turn to when you are ill. For some illnesses, your local pharmacist, GP, NHS 24 or minor injuries unit may be a more suitable place to go to rather than A&E.

During winter, bugs such as the winter vomiting bug or flu can spread and there are simple steps that everyone can take to prevent the spread including washing your hands properly, and staying at home until 48 hours after your symptoms have ended.

Notes to editors

Health boards have introduced a range of initiatives to improve unscheduled care. These include:

  • NHS Forth Valley is introducing a Frailty Unit which will offer new integrated assessment pathways for frail elderly patients to improve safety and patient experience
  • NHS Grampian is developing a whole system front door approach, and has set up a dedicated helpline for GPs to speak to A&E consultant and assess whether patients need to go to A&E
  • Innovations and developments in advanced real time information systems including electronic white boards being rolled out across all NHS Boards by March 2014. They are already progressing and being rolled out in NHS Lanarkshire, Fife, Forth Valley and Greater Glasgow & Clyde
  • Implementation of a "Delta Zone in NHS Borders which involves morning leadership huddles to improve leadership and encourage innovations and improvements
  • Introduction of allied health professionals in emergency departments to support musculoskeletal services
  • NHS 24 are introducing a new triage service and access to physiotherapy assessment by phone, offering advice to patients as an alternative to attending GP, out of hours or A&E.