Last winter was widely regarded as the toughest for the NHS in recent times. There’s always concern at winter time about extra pressure, longer waits for patients and staff run ragged. But last winter was exceptional. And while we didn’t agree that there was a “humanitarian crisis”, we do know that frontline NHS services were put under intolerable pressure, with only the heroic efforts of staff keeping services upright.
At the height of this pressure, the NHS had to provide an additional 4,500 beds a day – more than eight extra hospitals. Despite these extra beds, hospital bed occupancy rates remained well above the recommended safe levels. Record numbers of patients faced long delays in A&E departments and in waiting ambulances. Too many people were kept in hospital for longer than they should have been because of a lack of available capacity in social care and other parts of the NHS. This wasn’t just a problem for hospitals – community, mental health and ambulance services were also stretched to breaking point. In too many places, local services were overwhelmed, with staff placed under an unacceptable amount of pressure and patient safety compromised. We must ensure this does not happen again.
Fast forward six months and the NHS is deep into planning for what many worry will be an even tougher winter than last year. NHS Providers has kept a close eye on these preparations, working with frontline NHS trusts to assess their state of readiness for the winter ahead.
The good news is that national level planning is considerably more developed than last year. The local areas at most risk have been clearly identified and there are plans to move staff from better performing areas to help those in trouble if required. Emergency care performance has also been given greater priority.
But these improvements are being outweighed by a combination of increasing risks and NHS trusts are worried that they do not have enough staff, beds and other services to manage the risk to patient safety this winter.
Full story in The Guardian, 3 September 2017