As the NHS frontline braces itself for the winter months, this briefing outlines how prepared the NHS is for winter, and what trusts are doing to ensure they provide the best possible care to patients at a time of year when the NHS is usually under its greatest pressure.
- NHS trusts plan to maintain operational resilience all year round, but put a particular focus on winter given the higher incidence of flu, norovirus, and respiratory conditions which all put services under significant extra pressure.
- Throughout the year, trusts do all they can to provide the right care at the right time in the right place. This is particularly important in winter when the pressures are greatest and capacity to manage additional numbers of patients is more constrained.
- National planning for winter started earlier than ever before this year and significantly more resource has been devoted to it. Trusts tell us that this planning has been more extensive and more effective than ever before.
- Trusts have done remarkably well to stabilise performance, given the demand, workforce and financial pressures they face. But, as we move towards the end of the year, bed occupancy is still above recommended levels and other substantial risks remain. Trusts are working hard to mitigate these risks.
- This year’s flu strain could be the worst we have seen in two decades. The NHS has a long history of advance planning to deal with flu and has increased its focus on this year’s risk.
- The government announced in the 2017 budget on 22 November that the NHS would receive an additional £335m this year to help it through the winter. This extra money is welcome but has come very late to be used to maximum effect.
- Each system has a local escalation plan in place to ensure that patients can continue to be cared for in a safe and timely way in times of high demand. Where these are not sufficient regional and national support can be requested. Trusts also have internal indicators which are closely monitored. If things escalate, they have a number of different options available to them.
As NHS England publishes its weekly sitrep data over winter, NHS Providers will be capturing some of the key figures each week alongside views from NHS trusts on how winter feels on the ground in our weekly winter watch on our website.
NHS Providers (December 2017), Ready and resilient? How NHS trusts have prepared for winter.