Sheffield A&E is fit for winter freeze

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Extra nurses, more ambulances and longer GP opening hours are all being planned to avert a crisis at A&E in Sheffield this winter, The Star can reveal.

Health chiefs in the city have announced details of proposals to stop the emergency ward at the Northern General Hospital being inundated with patients in freezing weather.

The NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group has set aside hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay for extra workers, increase the number of care beds, provide longer GP opening hours and lay on more ambulances to transfer patients between hospitals.

Idris Griffiths, the commissioning group’s chief operating officer, told The Star a ‘very demanding winter’ is expected.

But he added: “We’re confident we’re doing all we can to prepare for winter.

“We’re not saying it won’t be challenging, but we’re cautiously confident. If it does happen, we will be ready.”

Last year Sheffield’s adult A&E department saw some of its busiest days on record. The unit was swamped with almost 500 patients in a single day when icy conditions were at their worst.

Mr Griffiths said more than £500,000 has been set aside to provide extra support in coming months, while a new ‘urgent care centre’ to ease pressure could be ready for launch this winter.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals has already invested £4.8 million this year to create more space at accident and emergency, refurbishing the main department and adding treatment areas.

“There is not masses of money, but there’s been real financial management throughout the year which has allowed us to be in a position to put some additional, non-recurring money in,” Mr Griffiths said.

“We’ve not had any external funding, so this is money we’ve had to find through our own efficiencies.

“We don’t know how bad the weather is going to be, and A&E departments and health services in general have been really busy throughout the year, so we don’t expect it to get anything but worse.”

Cash will be spent on increasing pharmacy staff at weekends to promptly dispense drugs on arrival and discharge from hospital, and boosting physiotherapy services to ensure patients are accurately assessed at A&E.

Efforts to increase take-up of the flu jab are being stepped up, and £50,000 is being invested in rapid response ambulance transfers.

“This might be from A&E at the Northern General to the appropriate unit at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital,” said Mr Griffiths. “It is important for the whole system not to experience delays.”

The winter funds will also pay for 46 additional intermediate care beds, many in nursing homes, for patients who need rehabilitation outside hospital, while £20,000 is being given to voluntary organisations who work with the elderly and vulnerable.

Mr Griffiths said money has been earmarked to expand GP access, offering more appointments throughout the day and outside working hours.

Meanwhile the urgent care centre is planned for the Northern General, treating patients with minor illnesses and non-critical injuries, freeing up medics to treat genuine emergency cases.

“Hospitals are there for really ill people, and the vast majority of people don’t go to A&E when they’re unwell - they ring their GP, go to a pharmacy or call NHS 111,” said Mr Griffiths.

“If a little more people could join in with that approach, it would be a huge help to the system.”

Nationally, the Government has handed out £250m to tackle winter A&E pressures - but Sheffield was not allocated any money, as the funds were given only to trusts most at risk of failing their accident and emergency targets.