Scotland politics

Scottish health boards prepare for winter

Hospital staff and patient in corridor
Image caption Some of the money has been spent on measures to improve the flow of patients through hospitals

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

He told health teams the Scottish government has taken steps to improve emergency care since last winter.

A total of £50m has been allocated to a care action plan over the next three years, of which £9m has already been given to health boards.

But BMA Scotland said the funding did not go far enough.

The body, which represents Scottish doctors, described the winter planning provisions announced by Mr Neil as a "sticking plaster".

The funding given to health boards is triple the amount provided for winter planning last year.

The money is being used to recruit additional staff, including additional A&E consultants and for measures to improve the flow of patients throughout hospitals.

NHS Grampian has set up a local helpline with a consultant available 24 hours a day to offer advice to GPs, paramedics and nurse practitioners, while NHS Forth Valley is introducing a Frailty Unit which will help the treatment of elderly patients.

'Increased pressures'

NHS 24 is 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 has used some funding to help develop the clinical skills available to NHS 24 callers.

Speaking ahead of a planning summit for health teams from across Scotland, 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 under way 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 an ageing population and the pressures that winter brings."

'Empty promise'

The health secretary said the planning summit was a chance for health boards to share ideas about what provisions they have put in place ahead of the winter period, and to highlight innovative approaches which are already working well.

He added: "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 is prepared for winter."

Dr Charles Saunders, deputy chairman of the BMA in Scotland, agreed that winter is always a "particularly challenging" time of year for the NHS.

He added: "The problem is that many NHS services are already working at full capacity and there is little scope for flexibility.

"While we welcome today's announcement of £9m for winter planning this year it is simply not enough.

"Divided amongst 14 health boards, the resource available locally will not be sufficient to make a significant difference. Creating consultant posts is a welcome measure, but if there are no doctors to fill these positions, it is simply an empty promise."

"The intention to improve the way that unscheduled care is provided year-round, is a sensible one, although it is deeply concerning that today's announcement makes no mention of primary care services."

He added: "It is GPs and community based staff who work with patients in their homes to try to minimise the need for avoidable and unplanned hospital admissions.

"This is a sticking plaster that will do little to stem the tide of demand that a harsh winter could create."

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