Health Secretary Frank Dobson announced that 80 million pounds is to be invested in accident and emergency units. Improvements to the units will include admission and observation wards, special areas for children, easier access to X-ray, pathology and pharmacy services, improved layout and furnishing and video surveillance and alarm systems.
The investment is part of a modernisation package which will involve a re-think of the way in which the needs of patients who now attend units are met. A review team is being set up spearhead the re-think. One of the issues they will consider is that of people with minor ailments clogging up the system because there is no where else to go for help. Options the team will explore include locating general practitioner and practise nurse services near to accident and emergency departments or in main streets and shopping malls.
NHS Direct, the telephone helpline, is reducing demand on accident and emergency units. It gives people immediate access to professional health advice around-the-clock for the cost of a local call. By 1 April 1999 some 40 % of the UK will be covered by the service and this will extend to 60% by the end of the year.