The Winter Crisis Continues?
As early as September this year, the NHS issued warnings of ‘dangerous’ bed shortages this winter. It’s been widely reported in the press that many patients could die during the winter due to the NHS being severely unprepared to deal with the large influx of people falling ill over the colder months of the year.
NHS Providers fears lives could be lost due to patients being forced to spend long periods of time waiting in trolleys, or in ambulances outside of A&E, because of insufficient hospital bed numbers.
The £1bn government initiative that had aimed to free 2,000-3,000 beds by September 2017 has failed, according to NHS Providers Chief Executive Chris Hopson. Hopson spoke of his fears to The Observer, saying because of this failure hospital services will struggle even more than last winter – when chaotic scenes led the Red Cross to Call the situation “a humanitarian crisis”.
Hospital waiting times off target
Hospitals are also missing essential waiting time targets resulting in wards so full they cannot admit new patients, NHS Improvement(NHSI) said. Recent NHS data shows more than 409,000 people waited longer than the official 18-week target for non-urgent treatment in August. Due to this, there’s likely to be a cascading effect this winter, with the season likely to be very difficult for all hospitals.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), said: “Staff across the NHS are gearing up again for the busy winter period and will remember the stress of enduring the worst winter on record last year, with patients facing unacceptable delays for care.
“We don’t want to see a repeat of that this year, which is why it’s vital the entire health system is supported and working well – from our GP surgeries, to hospital wards, to social care.
To achieve this, and ensure the NHS is able to cope with the inevitable spike in demand during the winter period, the government needs to urgently put in place measures to address the funding, capacity, and recruitment issues facing the system as a whole.
“Failure to do so will leave the NHS sleepwalking into another, entirely predictable, winter crisis, with patients and the quality of patient care suffering as a result.”
Ready and resilient?
NHS Providers reacted to the news of another winter crisis with a new briefing. Entitled ‘Read and Resilient?’ the brief outlines in detail what has been done both locally and nationally to ensure safe, high quality care for patients. The brief reveals how NHS trusts plan to maintain operational resilience throughout the year, but with more of a focus on the winter, considering the higher prevalence of flu, norovirus, and respiratory conditions that all put services under added pressure.
The brief also states that national planning for the winter starter earlier than in previous years and significantly more resource has been dedicated to this cause.
This system resilience is organised through A&E delivery boards, made up of representatives from all types of trusts (acute hospital, ambulance, community, and mental health), clinical commissioning groups, representatives of local primary care and local government (social care). Each A&E delivery board is required to produce a plan ahead of the winter.
Trusts have done extremely well to stabilise and maintain performance in the face of workforce and financial pressures, and increased demand. But as the winter is now upon us, bed occupancy remains above the advised levels, although trusts are continuing to work hard to alleviate these risks.
National bodies are also taking a more pre-emptive and active approach to soften the blow of the winter crisis. They worked closer together in the leadup to winter with the appointment of Pauline Philip as National Director, who’s been tasked with winter planning.
The government steps in…too late?
And what about the government? In the Autumn budget on 22nd of November, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced that the NHS would receive an additional £335 million to help fund their winter crisis prevention endeavours. This extra money was welcomed, but could potentially have come too late to be used to maximum effect.
One of the key ways NHS trusts are helping to ease the winter crisis is by recruiting more staff. Take a look at the latest positions on our jobs boardor for everything else, get in touch with MedicsPro today.