The Department of Health is to spend £500m propping up accident and emergency services in the most pressured health economies between now and the next general election.
The Treasury will release £250m this year to ease “winter pressures” in A&E departments in round 50 of the highest risk health economies in England, with a further £250m in the following year.
The new funding will be targeted at “pinch points” in local services, the Department of Health said in a statement.
It identified several examples of local initiatives that ministers thought should receive part of the funding.
These included minimising A&E attendances and admissions from care homes by appointing hospital specialists in charge of joining up services for the elderly, as well as seven day social work, increased hours at walk-in centres and extended pharmacy services.
The DH said A&E departments were currently performing at their usual level for the summer period, with over 95% of patients seen within four hours since the end of April.
Prime minister David Cameron said: “While A&E departments are performing well this summer and at a level we would expect for this time of year, I want the NHS to take action now to prepare for the coming winter.
“By acting now, we can ensure doctors, nurse and NHS staff have the support they need and patients are not left facing excessive waits for treatment. “
NHS England medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh is also leading a review into the demands on urgent and emergency care and how the NHS should respond, which is expected to report in the autumn.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “A&E services are at breaking point.
“We need significant investment to help ease the overwhelming pressure services and staff are under, however this needs to be continuous funding rather than a short term fix. We also need clarity on where and how this money will be spent to ensure it has the greatest benefit on a local level.”
He added: “We’re pleased that NHS England are currently undertaking a review of urgent and emergency care, nationally, to get to the heart of problems and identify year-round solutions to improve patient care and working conditions for staff.
“We’re hopeful that the findings of this review will have a long lasting effect.”
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell described the £500m as a “sticking plaster” solution.
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