Temporary unit at Norwich hospital as health bosses try to cope with soaring winter demand
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A temporary urgent care unit is to be set up at Norfolk's biggest hospital as health bosses try to deal with rising winter demand.
Quicker discharges, additional beds in community hospitals and at-home support is also being considered as part of a £1.6m investment from NHS England.
It is hoped the measures could relieve pressure on under-pressure accident and emergency departments, with the NHS reminding patients to make the right choice when need care.
The urgent care unit is expected to be set up at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) between mid-January and March 31, and used to treat people with minor illnesses who do not need to be seen by a hospital specialist.
It will be housed in three purpose-built transporters outside the hospital's A&E department, where patients will be seen by community health and care staff who will treat them and discharge them.
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The one-off £1.6m investment is being spent on projects being delivered by the NHS Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the NNUH, Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust (NCH&C), Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, and Norfolk County Council.
Jonathon Fagge, chief executive of NHS Norwich CCG, said: 'This is a significant investment which is extremely welcome and which we hope will make a big difference for patients this winter.
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'Winter always brings more pressure for the NHS but in recent months and by working in close partnership, we have made major improvements to central Norfolk's urgent care system already.'
The new unit is intended to free up A&E staff from dealing with patients who do not need their specialist attention. It was trialled for two days in both November and December, with staff reporting a positive impact.
It will be staffed by GPs, nurses and therapists from NCH&C, mental health nurses from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and and social workers from Norfolk County Council.
Ten further beds will also be made available from January to March at hospitals run by NCH&C, to offer patients an alternative to acute hospital care.
Six of the beds will be based at Dereham Hospital, with four at Kelling Hospital. Managers hope the beds will help people to access rehabilitation closer to home, letting them be closer to their families and freeing up acute hospital beds for patients most in need.
Anna Morgan, NCH&C's director of nursing, quality and operations, said: 'Our NHS staff are experts at helping people to recover from minor injuries or illness, and enabling people to return to the comfort of their own homes as soon as possible.
'Our teams at both the temporary urgent care centre and our community hospitals will be on hand to provide patients with the right care for their needs, so they can retain their independence and avoid an unnecessary visit to a GP or hospital in the future.
'As well as helping to keep people well, we can also free up emergency care resources for people who really need them.'
There will also be earlier assessment and discharge of patients who need ongoing care - including 'placement without prejudice', meaning patients will be discharged with the care they need immediately, preventing administrative delays.
A project will also be launched to find ways to further reduce delays in transfers of care - for example, speeding up patient discharge processes and anticipating demand for community beds, nursing, mental health or social care services.