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Adult social care underfunding is increasing the strain on A&E

3 November 2016

The Government urgently needs to address the underfunding of adult social care to relieve pressure on A&E departments, says the Health Committee in its report on winter planning in A&E departments. 

Shortfall in social care provision

Unless the shortfall in social care provision is addressed, people will continue to face avoidable admission and delayed discharge from hospital.

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Health Committee, says:

"Accident and Emergency departments in England are managing unprecedented levels of demand. The pressures are now continuing year round without the traditional respite over the summer months as departments try to cope with increasing numbers of patients with complex needs."

For major emergency departments in 2015, only 88.% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within 4 hours, well short of the 95% standard set by the Government. This figure masks great variation in the performance of trusts which cannot be explained by financial challenge, demographics and demand alone.

Patient flow

Some trusts are supporting patient flow out of their hospitals by creating their own services that provide social care in order to address the problem of delayed discharges. These initiatives, however, have a limited scope when trusts are themselves under such financial pressure. Investing in social and intermediate care should be a priority.

The current level of variation in meeting the four-hour waiting time standard is also due to differences in the way that trusts manage flows within hospitals. Whilst there are examples of excellent practice and systems alongside a culture of all staff supporting the A&E department because of its importance to patient safety, there are also examples of poor performance worsened by inadequate systems which have been allowed to continue for too long. Long waits for ambulance staff to transfer patients to A&E departments are unacceptable and must be addressed.

Struggle to manage demand

As identified by NHS England's chief executive, emergency departments will struggle to manage demand unless additional infrastructure funding is made available to those struggling in inadequate premises.

It is essential that the Government ensures that sufficient capital funding is available for trusts to develop the infrastructure that will enable them to meet performance levels demanded by Ministers.

The first step will be an assessment of the infrastructure investment required to ensure that type 1 emergency departments are fit for purpose, which should be completed through the Sustainability and Transformation Plan process.

Call for sufficient funding

The report calls on the Government to make sure that sufficient funding is available to support the infrastructure investment required to ensure that type 1 emergency departments are fit for purpose, and to review the real terms cuts to NHS capital budgets in the Spending Review.

The Committee calls for NHS Improvement to consider the steps that it can take this winter to ensure that all A&E departments are properly staffed and for Health Education England to look again at the long term sustainability of staffing, including for paramedics, within major emergency departments and the ambulance service.

Further information

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