How we’re helping the NHS plan for winter

NHS leaders have today shared a plan that highlights the areas the NHS should focus on to prepare for increased demand this coming winter.

Today we have joined with other NHS leaders to write to system leaders to share measures our evidence shows the NHS should take to manage increased demand this winter period.

The plan is informed by our newly published review of last winter, when health services in England came under significant additional pressure as a result of a ‘perfect storm’ of extreme weather conditions, the worst flu season in a decade and high levels of norovirus.

It includes:

  • ‘near universal’ uptake from their frontline staff of this year’s flu jab. This will be offered free to social care workers again this year
  • more patients with minor illnesses and injuries will be referred to services other than A&E, including through primary care. To support this, 9 million additional GP appointments will be made available from October over the year, including over weekends and evenings
  • community providers will free up capacity across their services so they can support the expected increased demand on hospitals and allow more patients to recover safely at home
  • NHS trusts will ensure hospitals make greater use of flexible working, e-rostering systems, and planning annual leave effectively to maximise the number of staff available during periods of peak demand

Trusts have also been reminded of the national ambition, announced in June, to free up 4,000 beds by the end of December 2018 —particularly by reducing the number of ‘long-stay’ patients.

Nearly 350,000 patients spend more than three weeks in a hospital each year this is around a fifth of beds. Some patients need to be there for medical reasons, but many do not. Many of these patients are older people who may deteriorate if they stay in hospital longer than necessary.

The letter comes as the Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that £145m has been allocated to support NHS trusts implement plans to maintain services during the winter flu season.

‘Last year, over 55,000 people were seen in A&E and admitted or discharged within four hours every day over winter. That’s over 6.7 million people in total. This is thanks to the efforts and dedication of hard working staff.

As we plan for this coming winter, efforts must continue to ensure emergency services and beds are prioritised for the sickest patients and that more people are enabled to recover at home. No one should stay in hospital any longer than they need to.

Dr Kathy McLean, Executive Medical Director and Chief Operating Officer, NHS Improvement