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Patients urged to book A&E appointments through NHS 111

Written by on 17 September 2020

Patients will be urged to book A&E appointments as part of a shake-up of emergency services in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

If pilots are successful, the scheme could be rolled out to all NHS trusts in December, with patients told they should ring up NHS 111 and book a space in the emergency department.

Experts believe it makes sense to triage patients by phone or online rather than having people sitting in waiting rooms as the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis.

The government also wants to reduce pressure on emergency departments as staff face winter pressures, including from coronavirus and seasonal flu.

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A campaign called Help Us Help You will launch later in the year to urge people to use the new service.

More NHS 111 call handlers are being brought in to take on the additional workload, alongside extra clinicians, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

A consultation on new targets for waiting times in A&E is also being launched as ministers prepare to scrap the current four-hour target.

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Patients will still be able to seek help at A&E without an appointment under the new changes, but officials claim they will likely end up waiting longer than those who have gone through 111.

People with a life-threatening condition should still call 999.

The new system will see NHS 111 workers direct patients to the most clinically appropriate service, including A&Es, urgent treatment centres, GP surgeries or mental health care.

An extra GBP150m of funding has been pledged by the government to expand and upgrade 25 more A&Es to reduce overcrowding and improve infection control ahead of winter.

This sum would be on top of GBP300m announced for 117 trusts to upgrade their facilities.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “We are investing GBP450 million to make sure our A&E departments are ready for winter.

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“Hospitals around the country will be able to expand and upgrade to ensure they can continue safely treating patients in the coming months.”

He continued: “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.”

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The 111 pilots are currently live in Cornwall, Portsmouth, Hampshire and Blackpool, and have just begun in Warrington.

Dr Cliff Mann, NHS national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said: “This additional investment will help us continue the development of NHS 111 and provide a broader range of services, with direct booking that will ensure all patients can see the right clinicians in the right setting, and address the extra challenges posed by COVID-19 so that emergency departments can safely treat those patients who do require their services.”