'Five years' to ease A&E pressures
Relieving the winter pressures on accident and emergency services in England will take up to five years, senior NHS officials have warned.
NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said it would "foolish" to claim there would be no repeat next winter of the problems which have seen hospitals fail to meet their target of seeing 95% of A&E admissions within four hours.
Professor Keith Willett, the director of acute care for NHS England, said there had to be a "complete transformation" of the entire healthcare system if the pressures were to be alleviated in the long term.
Their comments came after figures showed that the numbers of patients being seen within the four-hour target period dropped to 86.7% in the week ending January 4.
Giving evidence to the Commons Health Committee, Sir Bruce said it was clear that A&E departments were under "considerable pressure", with 20,000 more patients attending A&E during Christmas week than there were in 2013.
"In answer to the question 'Can we tell you that next winter that we will be okay?' I think it would be very foolish to sit here and say this because it is part of a three to five year programme," he said.
Prof Willett said that the emergency care review announced last year by NHS England was looking at all aspects of the system, including improving out-of-hospital services to ease the pressure on A&E.
"We have to do a transformation of the whole system with a particular focus on out-of-hospital services being the way to both reduce demand and also alleviate the issues of congestion within the hospital," he said.
"It isn't going to be a quick fix. We have said it will be three to five years to get all of these things in place."
While he acknowledged that some patients attending A&E over the Christmas period had had "poor experiences", he insisted that the system had coped well given the pressures that it is under.
"I think we need to be very proud of what the NHS has done and has actually managed to stay very close to what it has been asked to do," he said.
"That is absolutely at the expense of enormous numbers of extra hours and enormous extra shifts and commitment put in by staff."