THE chief executive of the trust which oversees Colchester Hospital says more funds should go to volunteers to help alleviate winter pressures.

Nick Hulme joined a panel of professionals to speak at a Health Service Journal webcast.

Paul Ridout, partner at Ridouts Solicitors, and Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the Nuffield Trust, also made up the panel.

Mr Hulme said one of the ways to alleviate pressures on A&E was to get voluntary sectors more involved.

He said: “We have seen a busy summer, there was a ten per cent increase in accident and emergency admissions.

“Leaders are regularly meeting every month and there is an understanding of the pressures.

“There has always been this blaming and counter-blaming but that for me has moved on to a collective sense of ‘this is all of our problem, and we need to find a solution together’.”

He added: “There is a small voluntary transport service in Clacton that offered us the opportunity to discharge patients after 5pm and at weekends for less than £20,000 over the winter.

“We should be looking at longer term funding for volunteers.”

He also suggested supporting care home staff so residents can avoid hospital, teaching them how to deal with dehydration and changing catheters.

He showed his enthusiasm for the four-hour A&E waiting time target, which says at least 95 per cent of patients should be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

Mr Ridout said it was positive as long as staff could cope.

He added: “Clearly a standard is important as long as it does not become a stick to beat the staff with. It should be challenging but not impossible.”

Mr Hulme said winter funding should also be allocated earlier on in the year, so hospitals can recruit more staff instead of having to pay out for agency workers.

He said: “Every year we are told there is no winter funding and every year we get it. Suddenly someone turns up too late and says here’s a lump of money.

“I think the other thing is around flexibility, being specific about what money is spent on doesn’t help the system.”

A masterplan is being drawn up by by health bosses to avert a winter beds crisis at Colchester Hospital.

An analysis of bed capacity has show if nothing is done to create more bed space, the hospital could be full for the next three months.