The detailed Winter Health Check plans put in place by the NHS have been outlined by Dame Barbara Hakin.
NHS England’s Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Chief Executive explained: “We have pulled out all the stops to get ready for this winter. We started planning earlier than ever before and we have taken steps to ensure those preparations are more comprehensive.”
She set out the plans as NHS England revealed a further £150million of funding is going to be made available for services this winter.
“All parts of the NHS have always planned carefully for winter. Our hospitals open up extra wards and bring in extra staff – across the country. This year, for instance, we expect several thousand more beds to be available.
“We also increase the services in general practice and in the community. NHS 111 and our ambulance services will have additional staff and regularly test that they can answer and respond to the additional calls they know they will get.”
Dame Barbara added: “This year, in every community across England, all the leaders from health and social are coming together in Urgent Care Groups to work out what they need to do locally to maintain services when demand rises. In particular they will want to ensure that services are available for the elderly and most vulnerable near to or in their own homes so they don’t need to go to hospital unnecessarily. This is just as important as making sure the services are just right in the hospital.
“I was a GP for twenty years so I know what a difference good service outside hospital can make. I believe the preparations GPs make for their new contract will help this winter. In addition, I cannot emphasise too much how we depend on social care colleagues to support patients to stay in their own home.
“Our hospitals are already busy, especially the A&E departments. But they are led by highly experienced clinicians and managers who know how to increase their capacity when demand is high.
“We also know that we need to help patients to stay well. So we encourage all those at risk to have their flu injection. We try to give comprehensive advice about what people can do to help themselves stay well and where they can go for help if they need it.
“Monitoring the situation nationally is vital. We monitor influenza across the world as early as the summer since what is happening in Australia then can give us early warning. And as we get into winter we closely monitor bed availability, especially high dependency beds such as paediatric and neonatal intensive care beds.
“It is absolutely right to be totally alive to the risks during winter but it’s also important not to call a crisis before it has happened. We are right at the start of winter and we are not complacent. But we can be heartened that at the moment we are seeing and treating patients quickly in our A&E departments with those not admitted generally seen and treated in under two hours.
“Everyone is working really hard to make sure we manage this winter just as well as we have done in the past. The challenges are significant but the effort we are putting in to meet those challenges has never been greater and our planning and coordination has never been as meticulous nor as advanced at this stage of the year as it is now.”
Dame Barbara explained how advanced planning had been the key to preparations, adding: “Last Winter was a tough one for the NHS so this year we started preparing earlier than ever before, with an extra £250m given to those local systems in greatest need to support them over winter.
“To support those systems not deemed most at risk, NHS England will be distributing a further £150m to help them maintain services and reduce the pressure on A&Es caused by cold weather. The additional money will come from NHS England’s expected surplus for the current financial year and will be distributed among local communities based on the number of people they serve.
“We know that our A&E departments are trusted by the public and we are determined to maintain the high standards that patients have come to expect. We will now keep a very close eye on the position so that we can ensure there is a quick response should any issues arise. We will share information with the public on a weekly basis.
“The current position is that the NHS is achieving the operational standard in terms of 95 per cent of patients waiting less than four hours in A&E and our daily situation reports suggest that the current pressures are comparable with the same period last year
“The cold weather has not yet fully started and the most testing periods are still to come. But we are ready for winter and we are monitoring tightly.”