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The UK will "walk blindfold into another winter crisis" in hospital care if recommendations put forward in a report by leading doctors are not implemented and the strain is left on A&E services, a medical chief said.
Royal College of Physicians president Sir Richard Thompson said:
Over the past few years, services for ill patients have been stretched by the sheer amount of acute and emergency admissions, and we have to plan better for the future to protect patient safety.
These 13 recommendations are practical, evidence-based, and produced by doctors who care for patients daily - if we do not implement them, we shall simply walk blindfold into another winter crisis.
According to doctors from the College of Emergency Medicine, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons:
- Other health and social care workers physically located in emergency departments to bridge the gap between GP, hospital and social care services in order to support vulnerable patients.
- Community care and social care should be available seven days a week to support urgent and emergency care services.
- This would mean patients could be safely discharged outside of normal working hours.
A group of leading doctors has called for out-of-hours GP services to be offered alongside emergency departments at hospitals to stem the "overwhelming" number of A&E patients.
Doctors from the College of Emergency Medicine, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons, want every emergency department should have a co-located primary care out-of-hours facility.
Patients should not be expected to determine whether or not their injury is serious enough to warrant a trip to A&E or minor enough to contact a GP and should have access to both levels of care, doctors said.
However, the recommended it was inappropriate to expect A&E to deal with "anything and everything".
The Government has defended its funding of GP services, saying two-thirds of the NHS budget is controlled by local family doctors and finding extra cash will "mean reductions elsewhere".
An NHS England spokeswoman said:
Two thirds of the NHS budget is now controlled by local GPs and like them we want to see more investment in primary care, including modern buildings.
While the NHS budget has been protected, which is welcome, finding more money in one area will inevitably mean reductions elsewhere.
Some 39% of GPs feel the premises they see patients on is in too poor shape to properly care for them.
According to a poll of 4,000 GPs:
- Two thirds said they had been prevented from developing or refurbishing their premises because of a lack of cash.
- And a number raised concerns about the impact of "hot-desking", or sharing consulting rooms with colleagues, saying that it hampered their ability to carry out a full range of services.
Patients are not getting the care they need as many GP surgeries are "unfit for purpose", according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
Crumbling surgery buildings are preventing patients getting access to the services they need "undermining" care, the union said.
One of Britain's top GPs, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, warned many surgeries had seen "no real investment" over the last 10 years.
Dr Nagpaul, chair of the BMA's general practitioners committee, said: "Far too many practices have seen no real investment in their buildings in the past ten years, leaving them in cramped, unsuitable conditions that are hindering the ability of many to even offer basic general practice services.
"Practices also reported being prevented from relocating to more suitable premises because of a lack of resources."
A survey of GP patients in England suggests they are less satisfied in the service provided than they were two years ago.
Of the 903,357 adults questioned in the Ipsos Mori survey for NHS England:
- 34% have a "very good" experience of making an appointment compared with 38% in June 2012
- 36% were "very satisfied" with their surgery's opening hours, down from 40% in June 2012
- 86% were successfully able to get appointment to see or speak to someone at their surgery
- 34% would prefer to book their appointments online compared with 29% in June 2012
- 78% would recommend their GP surgery to someone who moved to the local area, which is down from 82% in June 2012