NHS trusts stuck in ‘unsustainable cycle of severe winter pressures’ fear winter worse than last year

There are “clear warning signs” that the coming winter will be even worse for NHS trusts than last year, a new report from NHS Providers has warned.

Growing staff shortages are putting “additional strain on a workforce already overstretched” and a greater pressure on mental health, community and ambulance services, which are amongst the primary concerns outlined in the ‘Steeling ourselves for winter 2018-19’ report.

A worse A&E performance compared to last year, higher levels of staff vacancies, and a weaker state of social care and more fragile primary care all point towards challenges this winter being “even more severe” than last year.

Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy and deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, described the current situation as an “unsustainable cycle of severe winter pressures” which leaves the NHS “playing catch up throughout the rest of the year.”

Stressing the need for the NHS to escape this cycle, Cordery said that the NHS’s upcoming long-term plan “represents an opportunity to do this.”

NHS Provider’s does set out some factors pointing towards better care this year, including progress in reducing delayed patient transfers of care and the recent announcement of £240m extra funding for social care and £145m for emergency care.

However, the additional funding announced by the prime minister is only due to start flowing from next April, and the report stresses that the loss of dedicated winter funding has “restricted what trusts can do to prepare for the most challenging time of the year.”

Other issues facing trusts, compared to last winter, include a more pressured workforce, making it more difficult than last year to fill extra shifts; and pressure across all other hospital activity restricting their ability to prioritise urgent care.

The report concludes that the NHS long-term plan represents the best opportunity to break the recurring winter crisis cycle, and has called on NHS national bodies to acknowledge and plan for the true scale of the demand facing them.

It also called for urgent steps to address immediate workforce problems and said that steps need to be taken to provide a sustainable long-term solution.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We recognise winter can be challenging, but as the report itself notes, the NHS will benefit from a second year of better, enhanced, national level winter planning, as well as £420m to redevelop A&Es, improve emergency care and help get patients home quicker.”

Last winter, over five hospital’s worth of beds opened daily, according the Nuffield Trust, and in May, NHS Providers revealed that trust were relying on agencies and the private sector to tackle a “bulging” post-winter backlog.

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Image credit -  Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images


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