The UK government is putting in an additional £500 million over the next two years to ensure that struggling A&E departments can cope over the winter.

The Department of Health says that 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 DoH noted that hospitals have put forward proposals aimed at improving how their services work, including improvements to services away from A&E so there are less unnecessary visits or longer stays. Prime Minister David Cameron said that "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".

He added that "by acting now, we can ensure doctors, nurses and NHS staff have the support they need and patients are not left facing excessive waits". It was also announced that the beleaguered NHS 111 non-emergency telephone line will also receive an extra £15 million for the winter.

Commenting on the extra cash, NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar said "these payments will be useful in the short term" but warned that "this money must be used to help divert work away from hospitals as well as to compensate trusts fairly for the extra work they are undertaking". He added that "one of the things many of our members are telling us is that it is vital they receive funding for winter pressures earlier in the year, so they can plan and respond effectively, rather than catching up with themselves once the floodgates have opened".