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UK govt will push NHS demand away from hospitals

The government is rolling out plans to reduce demand on hospitals and emergency services by offering vulnerable people support as early as possible.

Rishi Sunak has been told by health leaders that the priority in easing the NHS crisis should be to minimise pressure on “hot areas” – in particular accident and emergency departments, where long waits have been routine and ambulances often queue for hours.

Ministers will announce on Monday that they are funding 150 new mental health facilities, which is seen as one way of offering patients treatment away from hospitals.

A source close to Sunak said: “There are a lot of people who come into A&E who actually need help from mental health specialists.”

About £150m of funding will go to the new facilities, which include crisis cafes and spaces where people detained by the police can receive mental health treatment, as well as 100 new mental health ambulances to allow specialist staff to travel to people who need help.

The Prime Minister said: “People in mental health crisis deserve compassionate care in a safe and appropriate setting. Too often, they end up in A&E when they should be receiving specialist treatment elsewhere.

“This important funding will make sure they get the help they need while easing pressures on emergency departments and freeing up staff time – which is a huge priority for the Government this winter.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay added: “With the health systems facing huge challenges this winter from the rise in flu, ongoing Covid cases and the impact of the pandemic, we need to ensure people are still receiving the right specialist care.”

Sunak has also pledged to reform the emergency services, but has not yet explained how this might work. Another part of the policy will involve speeding up the discharge of patients out of hospital and into a care home or their own home to boost hospital capacity.

As well as reducing waiting times, the Government hopes that putting extra capacity into the system will help bring the current wave of NHS strikes to an end by improving the working conditions of doctors, nurses and paramedics. Ministers are reluctant to offer inflation-busting pay rises and so are keen to explore whether unions will consider an agreement that would see workplace upgrades at minimal cost to the state.

Labour has blamed the NHS pressures on “13 years of Conservative mismanagement”.

Shadow Cabinet ministers Yvette Cooper and Wes Streeting said in a joint article for the Sunday Telegraph: “Only Labour understands what is needed to make sure all of us have the security of knowing public services will be there when we need them.”

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