Busy hospital

NHS sets out plans to boost capacity ahead of busy winter period

As the end of summer looms and we approach the busy festive period, the NHS have revealed how they plan on boosting capacity and resilience to deal with the extra demand on their services.

The equivalent of 7,000 more beds are set to be made available through a combination of virtual wards, new hospital beds and initiatives, in the hope of expediting patient flow and alleviating pressure on the workforce over the course of the next few months.

As well as this, the NHS are set to recruit thousands of new call handlers to deal with the record demand currently on much of the country. 4,800 new staff will work on the 111 phonelines whilst a further 2,500 will work in 999 call rooms, with the new recruits having access to a live call dashboard and a target of answering a call in an average of 10 seconds.

The health sector also plan on improving waiting times by diverting calls between Trusts, further streamlining the overall patient pathway – this comes after the latest figures indicated that just 40% of patients were able to actually leave hospital despite being able to do so.

It is hoped these measures will improve the patient experience over the winter and ensure that everybody gets the care they need as quicky possible, in traditionally the busiest part of the year for healthcare.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director, said: “Winter is always a busy period for the NHS, and this is the first winter where we are likely to see combined pressures from Covid and flu, so it is right that we prepare as early as we can for the additional demand that we know we will face.

“Staff are already under pressure with continued high demand for our services – with figures showing the busiest summer ever for NHS emergency departments, with 2.18 million A&E attendances and almost 900,000 999 calls answered in June, and in July the highest number of category 1 ambulance callouts since records began.

“Ahead of the winter, we want to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to free up capacity so that staff can ensure patients get the care they need – this includes timely discharge, working with social care, and better support in the community with the expansion of virtual wards.

“We are also making the most of the advantages that a national health service provides – hospitals will be working closely together to ensure patients can be seen anywhere in the country and to speed up call times when patients call 111.

“As ever, it is vital that the public continues to use NHS services in the usual way including using 999 in an emergency and using NHS 111 online for other health issues and when the time comes, book in for your Covid and flu vaccines if you are eligible.”

The NHS are also undergoing extensive planning for their autumn Covid booster campaign, which will run in conjunction with their annual flu programme, further insulating the most vulnerable ahead of winter.

Additional measures to support resilience include:

  • An extra £10 million funding for mental health services throughout the festive period.
  • Mental health professionals will be deployed in 999 call centres so that people experiencing a mental health crisis can be directed towards appropriate services.
  • GP services will be supported through the recruitment of extra social prescribing link workers and care-coordinators to support patients with other needs.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “To prepare for what could be a challenging winter, I am working closely with the NHS at pace to ensure we are ready for the pressures ahead. By increasing capacity, boosting NHS 111 and 999 support, tackling delayed discharge and using new innovations such as virtual wards, we can help patients get the care they need, when they need it.

“Alongside this, I have launched a taskforce to drive up the recruitment of international staff into critical roles across the system, while we recruit and retain more doctors and nurses, so we can continue our work of busting the Covid backlogs, having now virtually eliminated waits of over two years as part of our Elective Recovery Plan – backed by record investment.”

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NHE May/June 2024

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