NHS ambulance in the snow depicting winter pressures

NHS set for toughest winter yet, warn health leaders

Continued strikes, staff burnout, workforce gaps, funding squeezes and rising demand play on the mind of healthcare leaders, as the NHS braces for its “toughest test yet” this winter.

NHS Providers’ State of the provider sector report shows that the overwhelming majority (95%) of trust leaders are concerned about the impact winter pressures will have on the health system.

"Patient care and safety are front and centre in everything that trusts do,” commented NHS Providers’ Sir Julian Hartley. “But the stark reality is that NHS trusts are facing their toughest test yet.”

Four in five (80%) of the 185 survey respondents believe this festive period will be more demanding than last year – two-thirds (66%) said winter 2022/23 was the most challenging they had ever experienced.

Workforce pressures remain front of mind too, with most trust leaders worrying about staff burnout (84%) and morale (83%).

Many concerns still revolve around industrial action too.

"The NHS can't afford further strikes.”

Sir Julian Hartley added: “Talks between the government and doctors' union are promising and it's absolutely vital that ministers pull every lever they can to break the deadlock.”

Every trust leader (100%) agreed that, without a break in the deadlock, strikes will compromise the NHS’s ability deliver on national recovery targets for elective care – almost all (99%) believed the same for backlogs in community and mental health services.

Concerns around industrial action also impacted attitudes on NHS finances, with more than three in four (76%) saying it was unlikely their trust will end 2024/24 in a better position than the previous year.

"Trusts are having to tighten their belts to find unprecedented efficiency savings while inflation squeezes already strained budgets, leaving little in reserve to invest in the extra capacity they need to deal with winter demand,” explained NHS Providers’ chief executive.

Cost cutting has already put a stop to recruitment drives and pulled back investment from community and mental health facilities.

The savings targets are “completely unrealistic” according to one hospital leader, while another indicated that expectations were “difficult to achieve and sustain” currently.

"Ultimately, it's patients who pay the price,” said Hartley.

Hero image credit: iStock

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