NHS will be ‘sorely tested’ this winter, say trusts

7 Dec 17

NHS trusts are more prepared than ever for the coming winter but the service is close to full stretch and will be “sorely tested”, the sector has warned.

NHS Providers today issued a report setting out in detail steps that have been taken by trusts to get ready for winter.

These include ensuring discharges happen seamlessly, developing local resilience plans with social care partners, staff checklists to standardise and improve basic care and communications campaigns to encourage people to “stay well this winter”.

Steps have also been taken at a national level to bolster resilience including the appointment of a national director for winter planning and contingency plans for those trusts most at risk.

The Budget also included £335m to help the NHS manage winter pressures.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “Last year the [winter] pressures were intolerable. Services were stretched up to, and in some places beyond, breaking point.

“This time preparations have never been more thorough.”

But he warned: “We have to recognise we are not where we would want to be as we head into winter.

“The NHS is already under severe pressure, and while the additional funding in the recent Budget is welcome, it has come very late to be used to maximum effect.

“We can not say with certainty how tough this winter will be, but the likelihood is that services will be sorely tested.”

Ongoing difficulties and pressures in the NHS include a shortage of beds – the NHS is running at 87% bed occupancy – and a lack of staff in key groups such as GPs and A&E consultants and nurses. This year’s flu strain is also considered the worst for two decades and has already tested the health systems in Australia and New Zealand.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "As NHS Providers say themselves in this report, trusts have done all they can to prepare for extra winter pressures this year. This has been supported by £435m to cope with winter, including making sure people get directed to the right service if they go to A&E, and £1bn this year to help meet adult social care needs.

"This year's winter preparation also includes an unprecedented system-wide push for all NHS workers to have the flu jab, aimed at helping protect patients in hospitals and in the community.”

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton called the report “alarming”.

She said: “It’s incredibly difficult for the NHS to plan for a crisis when it is already running at capacity and staff are stretched all year round.

“Ministers must be honest with the public about how the funding shortfall will hit – with more rationing, longer waiting lists and fewer operations all on the cards.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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