Are ‘winter pressures’ here to stay?

winter pressures

Winter has always been a notoriously difficult time within the healthcare industry. Illnesses associated with the colder weather relentlessly drive up patient demand on an already overstretched and struggling NHS service. Last winter, excess deaths related to the colder months across England and Wales totaled 31,100, which is a 29% increase on the 2011/12 figures, with respiratory diseases showing the strongest seasonal variation, accounting for one third of the excess deaths.

There are many factors that influence the tougher winter months, the first naturally being the seasonal onslaught of colder weather, ice and snow. As well as causing more healthy people to suffer slips, trips and falls that could see them visiting A&E, the chill in the air can also impact on more vulnerable patients, such as the elderly, the very young and those with chronic diseases, making them weaker and more susceptible to illnesses and infections. Influenza is also a massive threat at this time of year, and although flu vaccinations are offered in GP surgeries across the country, this additional service only acts to pile more pressure and work on to struggling staff.

Coping with demand

Winter pressures now seem to be starting earlier and earlier, almost becoming a year round event since the NHS is so under-resourced. A&E is undoubtedly one of the key hot spots; already floundering under missed targets and sky high demand, this department will have to drastically up it’s game to keep up with the extra patients heading through the doors as winter commences. This also links to hospital bed capacity, as during the winter months bed capacity can reach as high as 90%, meaning a quick turnaround is vital whilst still delivering on quality patient care. Sometimes this can even cause patients to be moved and shifted around the hospital too much, being placed in inappropriate care settings, for example, not necessarily within the ward that could best treat them. Primary care is also flagging under increased demand, as the GP is still the first point of contact for many patients, meaning appointment books are quickly filled.

busy hospital 2

So can winter pressures be tamed, or will they continue to spiral out of control?  The BMA briefing paper on this issue has suggested that one way to form more stability within the system is to focus on a combined approach, putting both health and social care together for an effective patient plan. This would be particularly beneficial for vulnerable patient groups, such as the elderly, who require additional care and attention to keep warm over winter.

These long term plans can’t take shape overnight however, and with winter just around the corner, the pressures are already hitting the NHS hard. In conjunction with ongoing plans, temporary workers such as locum doctors and bank nurses can make a vital difference in managing the incline of patient demand. Total Assist Group can help NHS trusts cope with spikes in activity, based on historic and predicted demand patterns. We have long been working on and maintaining a relevant and experienced pipeline of doctors ready to help tackle winter pressures, providing high calibre service to all of our established clients. Stepping in as required and when needed, professional locum staff are the ideal way to have an extra safe pair of hands on deck to help get control of rocketing demands.

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