With over 1 million more people visiting A&E compared to three years ago, last year's harsh winter put exceptional pressure on urgent and emergency wards.
The new funding will go to A&E departments identified as being under the most pressure and be targeted at 'pinch points' in local services.
The aim is for patients to be treated promptly, with fewer delays in A&E, and for other patients to get the care, prescriptions or advice they need without going to A&E.
Local initiatives: how extra A&E funding could be spent
Hospitals have put forward proposals aimed at improving how their services work. These include improvements to both A&E and improvements to other services away from A&E so there are less unnecessary visits or longer stays in urgent and emergency wards.
Some of the local initiatives could include:
- Minimising A&E attendances and hospital admissions from care homes by appointing hospital specialists in charge of joining up services for the elderly
- 7-day social work, increased hours at walk-in centres, increased intermediate care beds and extension to pharmacy services to ease pressures on A&E departments
- Consultant reviews of all ambulance arrivals in A&E so that a senior level decision is taken on what care is needed at the earliest opportunity.
Helping A&E departments prepare for winter
Currently, A&E departments are performing at their usual level for the summer period with over 95% of patients seen within 4 hours since the end of April. It is hoped that providing the additional funding at this stage will ensure the NHS is better prepared for the busier winter period.
Prime Minister David Cameron said:
"With over a million more people visiting A&E in the last three years, services and staff can find themselves under pressure during the busier winter period.
"While A&E departments are performing well this summer and at a level we would expect for this time of year, I want the NHS to take action now to prepare for the coming winter.
"The additional funding will go to hospitals where the pressure will be greatest, with a focus on practical measures that relieve pinch points in local services.
"By acting now, we can ensure doctors, nurses and NHS staff have the support they need and patients are not left facing excessive waits for treatment.
Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary said:
"This £500 million will help A&E departments to prepare for winter and give patients confidence that they can quickly access safe and reliable emergency care.
"We will do whatever it takes to make sure the best A&E care is there for every patient when they need it, and we're backing our hard-working NHS staff with the resources they need to deliver this."
Further initiatives to relieve pressure on A&E
The Department of Health and NHS England are working to relieve pressure on A&E in the longer term. A £3.8 billion fund has been agreed which will focus on joining up services, so that health and care services work more closely together, keeping people healthier and treating them closer to home. Professor Sir Bruce Keogh is leading a review into the demands on urgent and emergency care and how the NHS should respond. Sir Bruce is expected to report in the autumn.
NHS England, Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority (NTDA) are working closely with the local NHS to identify those A&E departments that will benefit most from this extra funding boost.
In addition, patients across the country will benefit from a £15 million cash injection to NHS 111 to prepare the service for potential winter pressures.