Major change to emergency care could see Brits sent to pharmacies when dialling 999 | The Sun

PATIENTS dialling 999 could soon be sent to a pharmacist or GP instead of a hospital.

NHS England is trialling a new system where people seeking an ambulance could be referred elsewhere if their condition isn’t life-threatening.

Calls classed as category two — which includes heart attacks and strokes — or below could be sent packing under the system.

Around 40 per cent of these lower priority calls will now be called back by a nurse, paramedic or doctor to see if an ambulance is really needed.

Previous trials in London and the West Midlands saw around half of callers sent to an urgent treatment clinic, GP or pharmacist instead of the hospital.

It has prompted NHS bosses to invite the eight other ambulance trusts in England to start trialling the system as well, in an effort to lower the workload on struggling services.

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Patients have been left waiting more than 24 hours in some cases as services struggle under high demands, wintery conditions and staff sickness.

Separate crises in A&E have seen ambulances left waiting hours outside hospitals with patients in the back, unable to get back on the road.

Professor Julian Redhead, NHS England national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said: "This new system will allow a conversation between a nurse and paramedic or a doctor and the patient.

“Between them, they'll be able to decide whether an ambulance is the best response or whether no ambulance is required and they're better cared for in a different environment.

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"It's really important that people know it doesn't mean anyone loses their place in the queue (while they are assessed).

"What it does is provide more individualised care for a patient but also allows us to free up the resource for our most vulnerable patients, patients who will have had strokes and heart attacks."

NHS England expects ambulance services to move to the new system in the next couple of weeks, with it kept under review during its initial months.

It comes as ambulance workers in England continue industrial action in the long-running dispute over pay and staffing, with no sign of a breakthrough in the increasingly bitter row.

About 15,000 members of Unison in five areas walked out last Friday, with officials warning of escalating action in the coming weeks unless the deadlock is broken.

Later on Friday, Unite said more than 1,000 workers employed by the South Central, South East Coast and Yorkshire ambulance services had voted to join the NHS strikes.

The frontline workers will join around 2,800 colleagues in the West Midlands, East Midlands, North West, North East and Wales already striking over pay.

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