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11.10.17

Two-thirds of health leaders ‘extremely concerned’ about winter

An NHS Confederation poll has found that 90% of health and care leaders across England are worried about the ability of their organisation to cope over winter – with 62% of these describing themselves as “extremely concerned.”

The fresh poll comes as the latest finding in a string of anxieties about the upcoming wintry period, which all help paint a bleak picture of the state of the sector as it braces for another tough season.

To remedy this, NHS Confed has called for a comprehensive review of which services are needed, including locations and how much they will cost.

Niall Dickson, the organisation’s chief executive, explained: “The health and care system in England is in a fragile state and it is fair to say many organisations will struggle to meet expectations over the next few months.

“Last year it was said that the service was ‘just about coping,’ but for many of our members this year looks more challenging. Not only is there the prospect of ongoing pressure, high bed occupancy, and DTOC blockages in flow, but the worry too of a serious flu attack combined with bad weather.”

NHS Improvement (NHSI) data shows A&E attendances and admissions are still on the rise, with a near 26% jump in responses to time-critical ambulance calls.

Hospitals and emergency departments are simply not able to recruit the staff they need,” added Dickson. “In some respects, the annual winter crisis is now an all-year round crisis with some additional and serious pressures over the next period.”

Just last month, outgoing NHSI boss Jim Mackey urged trusts to “focus hard” on the bed situation during winter, with hospitals currently very busy despite it still being relatively early in the year. Last year, the health sector has to open up an extra 4,500 bed at the busiest times – and this year’s cold season is expected to bite even harder.

The Department of Health has released £14m to hospitals to relieve some of these pressures, but many believe this is insufficient. The Labour Party, for example, has called for a £500m bailout fund to avoid another major crisis.

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