The NHS is bracing itself for a more difficult winter than it faced last year, a new report suggests. The ‘Steeling Ourselves For Winter 2018/19’ report shows that NHS Providers believe this winter will be worse than the last. Last year, the NHS faced a tremendous amount of pressure due to the rise in care requirements, coupled with the worst flu strain in seven years.
This year, the report explores that while some benefits can help to improve the situation the NHS faces, there are many risks and challenges which could create a bigger problem than the NHS experienced in 2017/18.
What are the challenges for winter 2018//19?
One of the most critical challenges the NHS faces is the relentless rise in the demand for care. The need for care continues to rise well above the planned estimates which, in turn, are outstripping the available resources. The relentless demand consequently leads to a more stressed, pressurised and tired workforce, alongside a higher level of vacancies, which make it harder to ensure every shift has full capacity.
The pressures also rise across other hospital activities, when winter means there is a higher requirement to prioritise urgent care. As such, this urgent care increases the demand for ambulance and community services as well for mental health services.
Other challenges the NHS faces this winter include the fact that A&E departments are so far performing worse than last year. Even though there is an additional £240 million funding for care, social care and primary care remain weak and fragile.
What can help the NHS to have a better winter?
One of the benefits that the NHS have for this winter is additional funding. There is £240 million for social care and £145 million for buildings and equipment. This injection of cash should help to alleviate the demand somewhat.
Another benefit is the rapid processing of transferring patients. Progress is steadily being made in helping to speed up transfers for patients who are ready to be discharged from the hospital.
Finally, it is hoped that this year will be a less severe flu season after last year’s severe strains of flu put increasing pressure on resources and hospitals.
How to stop the winter pressure cycle
There have been increasing calls to break the winter cycle that the NHS faces. A long-term NHS plan is the best chance to break the cycle with a scalable solution that can meet the increasingly complex demands that the health and care services face. NHS national bodies have also called for urgent measures to support the workforce problem and deliver a long-term solution that is sustainable for the future.