In Brief

Winter crisis fears prompt NHS cash boost of £300m

Fears NHS England won't cope this winter prompt extra money as election year looms

The government has announced a £300m cash boost for NHS England this winter, increasing the available funds to £700m, as concern is raised that the health service may struggle to cope with the usual seasonal increase in admissions.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted he expected "performance to improve on current levels" over the coming months because of the extra cash, which will mainly be used to increase staffing levels, particularly at the weekends.

The BBC quotes Hunt as saying: "We are boosting front-line services and expect the NHS to ensure strong performance is delivered locally, drawing on the multi-million pound support package that the government has provided."

However, A&E units have been struggling to meet their target of seeing 95 per cent of patients within four hours. Since April, they have only averaged 94.8 per cent. In recent weeks, the figure has dipped below 94 per cent.

In one week in mid-October, the figure was 93 per cent - worse than at any point during the whole of last winter.

The BBC's health correspondent, Nick Triggle, points out that "with little more than six months to a general election, all eyes are on how the health service copes".

Richard Murray, director of policy at health care think tank the King's Fund, told Triggle the "pressure is high" on the government as the winter approaches.

He said: "The big question is whether we will see a winter crisis like we used to: patients waiting in corridors and on trolleys, unable to get a bed. We are not there yet, but if pictures like that start emerging the debate goes to a whole other level."

Winter is a difficult time of year for the service because the cold weather can increase the number of falls and the amount of respiratory illness, says Triggle. The norovirus vomiting bug can also take hold on hospital wards.

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