DOCTORS will visit 999 callers at their homes so they do not have to go to hospital as part of a pioneering scheme to ease pressure on A&E this winter.

NHS Worcestershire has drawn up a contract with charity Mercia Accident Rescue Service (MARS), a group of highly trained and experienced pre-hospital practitioners that has 14 doctors and two advanced nurse practitioners.

NHS Worcestershire, which holds the purse strings for county healthcare, will pay the charity about £20,000 to carry out the service, which runs until the end of March.

Winter tends to be the busiest period for hospitals with patients suffering more respiratory problems and illnesses which can have a devastating impact on elderly and vulnerable patients.

The winter diarrhoea and vomiting bug norovirus, which has already led to the total or partial closure of six wards at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, means further beds are taken out of the system at this time of year, adding yet more pressure to an already overstretched system.

Dr Jonathan Leach, medical director at NHS Worcestershire and also a member of the MARS team, dubbed “the Martians”, devised the scheme.

It will involve about eight doctors paid GP locum rates. The service will be available on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.

When a patient dials 999, members of MARS can take the call and treat the patient instead of a paramedic, which could prevent a hospital admission.

Dr Leach said: “The idea is that, rather than getting a paramedic, they can get a doctor who can help treat the patient in conjunction with a paramedic, keeping that patient out of hospital.

“It means the ambulance service will have a doctor on tap. This will be unique in the country, a national first. We think it will save money in the long term and we think it will be better for patients.”

Dr Leach said trials of similar schemes had reduced hospital admissions by 40 per cent, but this will also free up an ambulance crew.

Dean Jenkins, West Midlands Ambulance Service acting general manager for Worcestershire, said: “A lot of the 999 calls we get are not life-threatening. Having these doctors on hand will be a great help to us, allowing us to concentrate on the most serious cases.”