Investing in primary care nursing could alleviate the unprecedented rise of A&E visits, leading nursing figures told Independent Nurse.
Marina Lupari, the RCN's professional lead for primary care and community nursing, said: 'The challenge is the lack of investment in primary care nursing services. There has been no growth in education and training programmes, which would allow better practice.'
Ms Lupari added that 'greater flexibility in general practice services' is required so people can get an appointment, and prevent a minor illness before it develops into something worse, requiring the patient to go to A&E.
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.'
'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.'
Mr Nolan added: 'Many non-emergency cases, 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.'
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 between 14 and 28 December, up by nearly 70,000 in the same period in 2013-14. No figures are available for the number of primary care attendances.