By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent, BBC News

Patients waiting to see a doctor

Fears of a winter crisis in the NHS in England have prompted ministers to increase the emergency funds available.

The government has released an extra £300m bringing the total winter pot to £700m – 75% more than the system received last year.

It will help beef up staff numbers and services, particularly at weekends.

A&Es have struggled to hit their four-hour waiting time target this year, but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said performance should improve now.

Hospitals are expected to see 95% of patients within four hours.

But since April they have averaged 94.8% with performance dipping below 94% in recent weeks despite the period covering spring, summer and the start of autumn.

The A&E system in numbers

Nearly 22m visits are made to A&E units each year

Daily visits are up by 3,000 since 2010

A&E units are expected to see 95% of patients in four hours

From April to the start of November performance stands at 94.8%

The worst single week was mid October when it hit 93% – worse than the whole of last winter

Ministers announced £400m of winter funding in the summer, this has now been topped up to £700m

The cash should pay for the equivalent of 1,000 extra doctors and 2,000 nurses in new posts and overtime

Performance in Northern Ireland and Wales is much worse, dropping below the 90% of a regular basis

In one week, during mid-October, it hit 93% – worse than at any point during the whole of last winter.

This is despite the mild weather, prompting fears that the winter could be particularly bad.

But Mr Hunt said, with the extra money and measures being put in place, he would expect “performance to improve on current levels”.

“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,” he added.

Ambulance, Liverpool

The money – the first part of which was handed out in the summer – is being spent both in and out of hospital.

Extra doctor and nurse capacity is being taken on – using a combination of agency staff, overtime and temporary appointments.

NHS under pressure

£700m

extra for A&E, but the rest of the system is under pressure –

  • 90,000 more patients waiting for an operation than a year ago

  • 62 day target for cancer treatment missed for last 6 months

  • 24% of patients say it’s “not easy” to get through to GP by phone

GETTY IMAGES

But money is also being set aside to extend pharmacy and GP opening as well as to boost physio, social worker and occupational therapy services.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “The ageing and growing population means that service pressures are rising so this winter the NHS will be pulling out all the stops.”

But British Medical Association chairman Dr Mark Porter said the extra money was simply a “sticking plaster”.

“It masks the fact that a funding gap of £30bn is opening up in the NHS, and does not go far enough to address the underlying reasons why the system is under such extreme pressure.

“If the NHS is to stop lurching from one crisis to another it needs a long-term plan rather than a short-term fix.”