NHS winter plans in place but trust leaders preparing for very tough times ahead

31 August 2022

Ahead of a speech tomorrow by the health and social care secretary at Policy Exchange on the NHS – preparing for winter and beyond, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said:

"With winter just around the corner, trust leaders across hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services are preparing for very tough times ahead for the NHS.

"We know the next few months are going to be highly pressurised for health and care services. Rising operational demands, a possible resurgence of COVID-19, a cost-of-living crisis that is already taking its toll on the public's health and widening health inequalities alongside an early flu season risk making a challenging winter even more difficult.

"Recent plans by NHS England to boost capacity and increase resilience over the coming months are welcome, but the scale of the task facing the NHS shows we need intervention across the whole health and care system if we are to put the NHS on an even keel not just for this winter, but beyond.

"We need to see a long-term workforce plan to recruit and retain staff, funding for preventive healthcare and social care reform.

"And we need to see rapid movement on the government's commitment to its much vaunted hospital building programme, which has been bedevilled by indecision and delay, and the staggering maintenance backlog facing the wider NHS estate. Our recent survey of trust leaders showed this investment would improve care and make the NHS more productive.

"All of these interventions are vital to help our hard pressed front line services including urgent and emergency care, which is under constant strain with long waits in extremely busy A&E departments demonstrating pressure right across our health and care system.

"Similarly, ambulance services are being stretched in every possible direction. Demand for services is increasing, response times are deteriorating, and handover delays continue to be a huge problem for hospitals unable to discharge patients who are well enough to continue their recovery at, or closer to home, largely due to shortages of staff and funding in social care.

"There are very real fears that this will only get worse as we hit the depths of winter.

"Plans to support patients to make informed choices about where to have their treatment via the NHS app may help to reduce waiting times for those who can access the technology and are able to travel further. However without support for those who face digital exclusion, or lack the support or funds to travel for their care, this initiative risks widening the inequalities in access, experience and outcomes that trusts are working hard to reduce."