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Just 1% of £700m winter funds spent on A&E

Winter crisis was ‘largely avoidable’

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 04 March 2015

Patients have been ‘badly let down’ because money allocated to relieve pressure on acute care was ‘not used effectively’ and the winter crisis in A&E was ‘largely avoidable’. 

This is the message that comes out of a report published today from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine: ‘Ignoring the Prescription’ which claims that of £700 million allocated to relieve the pressures on the acute care system, just one percent was spent on staff or other resources in emergency departments. 

The Patients’ Association today accused the government of ‘wasting’ £700m in winter funds and says patients were ‘badly let down’. 

The Department of Health and NHS England, however, have refuted the findings, the former describing the figures as ‘nonsense’ and the latter claiming the report contains ‘blatant inaccuracies’. 

To collate the data, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine surveyed the doctors in charge of emergency departments in all four nations of the UK. The survey of clinical leaders was responded to by 142 clinical leaders in January 2015 (almost two thirds of the UK Emergency Departments). In addition the College surveyed the department leads in England to ascertain what proportion of the £700 million allocated by the government was spent in emergency departments, resulting in the 1% figure. 

The report noted that a majority of 13 recommendations made by the four Medical Royal College in 2014 were not acted upon.

The College concluded that a ‘combination of failure to implement consensus recommendations coupled with the failure to invest allocated monies in front line services led to extraordinary winter pressures which were largely avoidable’.

Commenting Dr Clifford Mann, President of the College said: “Throughout the past 18 months we have been working closely with the Department of Health on the challenges facing A&Es over the winter months. It is so disappointing that our survey shows that the significant investment the government made to tackle the winter pressures has not reached the A&Es it was supposed to help.

“This report is an indictment of current decision making and investment in acute and emergency care. Patients and frontline staff deserve better and will be incredulous at the failure to adopt best practice and squander money on admission avoidance schemes that have self-evidently failed. This report should act as a catalyst to ensure the same mistakes are not made in 2015.”

Dr Mann added that in the future it would make ‘more sense’ to release funding directly to hospitals for investment in A&Es. 

Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive, of The Patients Association said: “Once again NHS management has wasted money at the expense of patients’ well-being.”

She described the performance as ‘lamentable’ and said managements’ judgement was ‘seriously lacking’. 

But NHS England described the report as: ‘a mix of sensible suggestions and blatant inaccuracies’.

“In fact, hospitals report they're spending over £400 million on extra services this winter in A&E and for their emergency patients,” said a spokesperson. “And most hospitals say they have brought in co-located GP services as the report suggests. What’s more, most people recognise that as well as spending in A&E departments, patients also need well-funded primary, community and social care to help them stay out of hospital in the first place. The bottom line is that we do need properly resourced A&E departments, but that case is not advanced by misleadingly criticising the hard work of the rest of the NHS to cope with what has been a busy and high pressure winter period."

The Department of Health called the figures ‘nonsense’. 

 “Acute hospitals that run A&Es are receiving over 60% of the record £700m winter funding. This has paid for 700 more doctors, nearly 4,500 more nurses and 5,000 more beds both inside and outside of hospitals to relieve pressure across the whole of the NHS and prevent people going to hospital in the first place.”

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