Nurses and other primary care staff have a crucial role to play in combating the rise in A&E admissions over the winter period, a leading nursing figure has said.
Speaking to Independent Nurse, JP Nolan, the RCN's head of nursing practice, said: 'There is huge potential for primary care to be more responsive to the winter period. However, they need to be facilitated in doing this. There are also pressures on primary care over winter, which you won't see in the headlines.'
The 2014/15 winter period has seen some of the highest A&E attendance rates in the history of the NHS. There were 849,800 attendances to A&E in the two weeks between the 14 and 28 December, up by nearly 70,000 from 780,700 in the same period in 2013/14. No figures are available for the number of primary care attendances.
Mr Nolan said: 'Pressures put on secondary services are often down to unscheduled visits, which can be for both physical and mental health issues. Many of these are non-emergency cases, which could be dealt with in primary care. However, we must be careful that we do not shift pressures from one area of the health service to another.'
This winter's crisis in A&E happened despite an extra £700 million being pledged by the DH to ensure that hospitals were able to cope. A DH spokesman said: 'We know the NHS is busier than ever before, which is why we've given the NHS a record £700m this winter for more doctors, nurses and beds.' So far, eight hospitals in England have declared 'major incidents.'
Mr Nolan added: 'There has been a 40 per cent cut in the number of hospital beds available. However, there has been no investment in bed-equivalents in primary and community care.'