PATIENTS attending A&E at Warrington Hospital will be told to call NHS 111 to book an appointment under a new pilot scheme.

Warrington is one of five areas where the new system is being tested, alongside Blackpool, Cornwall, Hampshire and Portsmouth.

If successful it could be rolled out to all NHS trusts across the country in December.

The move is being made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with the hope that patients being triaged by phone or online will reduce their waiting times in the emergency department.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: "We are investing £450million to make sure our A&E departments are ready for winter.

"Hospitals around the country will be able to expand and upgrade to ensure they can continue safely treating patients in the coming months.

"During the peak of the pandemic, we saw millions of people using NHS 111 to get the best possible advice on Covid-19 and other urgent NHS services.

"These pilots will build on this and test whether we can deliver quicker access to the right care, provide a better service for the public and ensure our dedicated NHS staff aren't overwhelmed.

"We all need to play our part by washing our hands regularly, using a face covering and keeping our distance from those not in our household – we are determined to protect the NHS as we did during the peak."

Patients will be able to seek help at A&E without an appointment, but officials say they are likely to end up waiting longer than those who go through 111.

Anyone with a ‘life-threatening condition’ should still call 999.

Dr Cliff Mann, NHS national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said: "While emergency admissions are now back to near normal levels and 999 calls are actually above usual, Covid-19 infection control means rethinking how safely to look after people who might previously have been to an emergency department for a more minor condition.

"Local teams are working hard to expand and adapt services to ensure people can continue to get the care they need safely, whether that's in hospital or closer to home.

"This additional investment will help us continue the development of NHS 111 and provide a broader range of services, with direct booking that will ensure all patients can see the right clinicians in the right setting and address the extra challenges posed by Covid-19 so that emergency departments can safely treat those patients who do require their services."

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, added: "The proposals to use 111 as a key front door to emergency care and redirect patients to the right service, avoiding the need to attend busy emergency departments when not required, are the right approach.

"They have been developed after extensive work between national and local leaders.

“It is appropriate that they should be properly piloted before they are fully rolled out but we are hopeful these pilots will prove successful."