In July 2023, NHS England published its plan for winter earlier than ever before, setting out actions systems and providers should take to build resilience ahead of what is likely to be another challenging winter.
These preparations build on the measures set out in the NHS Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan. More than £1bn revenue and £250 million of capital funding has been invested since the recovery plan was published to boost capacity and speed up discharge.
Chris Pallot, Director of Operations and Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Northamptonshire Integrated Care Board said: “Although the NHS experiences year-round pressures, the winter months are traditionally its busiest and most challenged time.
“Locally we are working with partners to look at how we can increase bed capacity in our hospitals as we move through the winter months whether this is boosting specialist services to patients with an increased risk of requiring hospital treatment, including those who are frail or have long-term conditions, to minimise hospitalisations, providing intermediate care for patients who are ready to leave hospital but need additional support in their recovery before they return home and expanding our virtual wards to ensure more people can be cared for at home.”
Ten high impact priority interventions have been identified nationally, which support a safe and effective service for patients and systems have been asked to deliver these. These include:
- Same Day Emergency Care (SDEC) – strengthening SDEC services to provide care for a minimum of 12 hours per day, 7 days a week
- Frailty – boosting services to detect more cases that could benefit from specific frailty advice and ensuring referrals to avoid admission
- Improving acute inpatient flow and length of stay – making sure patients stay in hospital for the shortest time medically necessary
- Improving community bed productivity and flow – ensuring patients receive community care as long as they need and receive support to continue their recovery when they leave hospital
- Care Transfer Hubs – ensuring all care transfer hubs are operating effectively as they connect with community partners to speed up discharge of patients
- Intermediate care demand and capacity – planning and commissioning the required amount and type of intermediate care needed to ensure timely discharge from acute settings
- Virtual wards – ensuring 10,000 virtual beds are in operation nationally by September 2023 to provide care for more people in their homes
- Urgent Community Response – appropriately assessing all patients who would benefit from urgent community care to avoid unnecessary transfer to hospital
- Single point of access – creating a consistent and coordinated system for health and care professionals to access when referring patients for UEC care
- Acute Respiratory Infection Hubs – providing same day urgent assessment for people experiencing respiratory conditions such as covid, flu, and RSV
In addition, the NHS is rolling out the COVID-19 and flu vaccination programme, which provides vital protection to eligible individuals over winter, preventing people from developing serious illnesses, and helping to minimise hospitalisations during busy winter months.
Strengthening mental health support is also a key element of our winter plans, and locally we are looking to improve ambulance responses to mental health calls and avoid long lengths of stay in mental health inpatient settings.
The NHS is also introducing a number of new services this autumn and winter to improve capacity in General Practice and make it more convenient for patients with conditions like conjunctivitis and UTIs to receive treatment quickly and easily without the need for an appointment at participating pharmacies.