More than 40 healthcare ‘traffic control centres’ are now live across England, helping to get patients into beds as quickly as possible.
The pioneering centres use data to respond to emerging challenges and can divert ambulances to another nearby hospital with more capacity, or identify hospitals that need extra support.
The move is part of the NHS’s wider winter plan published in October, which also included the rollout of a national falls response team service, new hubs dedicated to serious respiratory infections and additional bed capacity.
Each of the 42 integrated care systems in England now has a dedicated 24/7 operation where teams, including senior clinicians, can use data and local insights to make considered decisions in the face of emerging challenges.
Sites are also able to plan for pressures over weekends, bank holidays and other wider public events or dates that can affect services.
Control centre staff can now monitor a range of data, including A&E performance and waiting times, staffing levels, ambulance response times and bed occupancy.
Teams can work with partners across the integrated care system to stay across capacity in social care and primary care demand.
It comes as data from the NHS showed hundreds of hospital beds are being taken up by patients with flu; more than 10 times the number seen at the beginning of December last year.
Statistics also showed more than 19 in 20 adult general and acute beds were occupied in the week to 20 November, with over 13,000 beds a day taken up by patients medically fit for discharge.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “These locally delivered control centres are just one part of our wide-ranging preparations for winter but will play a vital role in the sharing and use of vital information to drive smarter decision-making by local NHS teams.
“From Maidstone to Lincoln, less than six weeks after we issued our national guidance, we have teams across England working around the clock monitoring and responding to information and insights from frontline services to help spread resources and make the best possible decisions for both staff and patients.
“With recent data hitting home the significant pressure staff are facing – with 10 times more flu cases in hospital than we saw going into winter last year, and thousands of beds taken up by patients medically fit for discharge – it has never been more important for the NHS to introduce these important and innovative planning measures ahead of what is likely to be one of our most challenging winters yet.
“The public can play its part by using NHS services in the usual way: dialling 999 in an emergency and using 111 online for other health conditions; and vaccines remain an important protection against serious illness, so please come forward if you’re eligible.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “It’s absolutely vital we use the latest, cutting-edge technology and data to ensure the NHS is performing as efficiently and effectively as possible – providing the very best care to patients and easing the burden on hard-working staff.
“These control centres will help ensure patients get access to care and treatment as quickly as possible over the challenging months ahead, with experts analysing live data and sharing NHS resources to focus emergency support where it is needed most.
“The public can also help protect themselves and support the NHS this winter by getting their flu jabs and Covid booster vaccines if eligible.”
Many regions and local teams stood up operational control centres during the pandemic and last winter, creating a proven track record for a national rollout, and enabling teams to maximise capacity for patients and rapidly escalate emerging risks.
Centres will be open seven days a week and are fully staffed during daytime hours, with on-call arrangements overnight.