NHS 111 will offer enhanced access to specialist paediatric advice for children and urgent mental health support, according to an NHS England "blueprint" to ease pressure on urgent and emergency care services.
Parents and carers seeking health advice for children and young people via NHS 111 online or by phone are being promised increased access to specialist support from paediatric clinicians to help manage illness at home or decide the best route for their care.
Some children may be referred for same-day appointments with a specialist rather than having to attend A&E.
NHS England’s Delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services also promises direct access to urgent mental health support using NHS 111, with people being able to select the mental health option when they call up for help.
An NHS England statement said: “Bolstering NHS 111, which acts as the first port of call for over 50,000 people using the health service each day, is among wider data-driven measures being set out today to support the recovery of urgent and emergency services, by ensuring people access the appropriate service without feeling they have to go to A&E or call 999.”
Other plans include a new national scheme embedding family support workers across selected A&E sites and increased public information on 12-hour A&E waits and discharge times so people can “easily compare their local services and make decisions about their care”.
The blueprint also promises to increase the number of “virtual beds” to more than 10,000 ahead of next winter, "allowing people to be cared for in their own homes and reducing hospital admissions".
NHS England also plans to increase the number of clinicians, including retired staff and returners, with flexible working options available.
NHS Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “The NHS has experienced the start of a winter like no other – the threat of the flu and covid ‘twindemic’ became a reality and that was alongside huge demand for all services – from ambulance and A&E services to mental health and GP appointments.
“Today we are taking our plans and preparations even further – building on the extra beds, call handlers and 24/7 control centres – and focusing on new and existing technologies and innovations to transform the way people access our services and ensure they get the most appropriate care for their individual needs.”
Professor Phil Banfield, chair of BMA council, commented on the plans: “The NHS cannot afford to wait two years for the fraction of help that the Government has proposed in this plan today. If the NHS has any chance of surviving that long, then we need to see immediate funding as well as steps taken to retain and boost our workforce.
“People aren’t leaving the NHS solely because they struggle to work flexibly, as this plan suggests. They’re leaving because they aren’t paid fairly, are subject to punitive pension taxation, and don’t feel valued.
“The only mention of active recruitment is in relation to NHS 111 – and that comes from recruiting healthcare workers from other, already severely understaffed parts of the health service. Moving existing staff and finances around is not the way to fix this.”
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