Summit to prepare NHS for winter: PM and health bosses to meet today to form battle plan for easing pressures – as top doctor warns patients face long waits, ambulance delays and being treated in corridors
- The NHS waiting list is now the highest since records began in August 2007
- READ MORE: Record number of Brits now paying for private medical treatment
Rishi Sunak and Steve Barclay will summon NHS chiefs and health leaders to Downing Street today to form a battle plan for easing pressures on the ‘fragile’ health service this winter.
The roundtable hosted by the pair is expected to get plans in place to increase patient access to emergency care and slash waiting times ahead of the colder months in an attempt to get ahead of looming spike in demand.
The NHS is plunged into chaos every winter due to a surge of patients struck down with seasonal bugs, respiratory illnesses and, in recent years, Covid.
But this year it also has to contend with a record 7.6million people in the queue for care, strikes among its workforce and a staffing exodus.
The Prime Minister revealed this morning that the government had ‘started planning for winter earlier than before’.
But ahead of the meeting, one of the country’s top doctors also warned the NHS is ‘not sufficiently resilient’ to face a similar situation to last year.
England’s backlog, for procedures like hip and knee replacements, now stands at 7.6million, official figures revealed today. It means roughly one in seven people across the country are currently stuck in the system awaiting care. More than 380,000 patients have gone a year without being treated, often in agony
The roundtable hosted by Rishi Sunak (pictured) and Steve Barclay, is expected to get plans in place to increase patient access to emergency care and slash waiting times ahead of the colder months in an attempt to get ahead of looming spike in demand
Ahead of today’s meeting Steve Barclay (pictured left) said: ‘I’m working closely with NHS and social care leaders to provide additional hospital capacity, protect emergency care and harness the full potential of technology to deliver the best possible service and intensify our efforts to tackle waiting lists’
Speaking ahead of today’s meeting, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said this year marked the first time that leaders had started preparing for winter in September.
He said: ‘We invested in more beds, ambulances and discharge lounges through our Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, and we’re freeing up 15million GP appointments through our Primary Care Recovery Plan.
‘To drive forward that progress, today we’re bringing together the best minds in healthcare who all have one shared aim – protecting patients and making sure they get the care they need this winter.’
Health Secretary Steve Barclay added: ‘Winter is always an extremely busy period and we’re working across the NHS to make services more resilient, ensuring those who most need help and support will get the care they need.
‘I’m working closely with NHS and social care leaders to provide additional hospital capacity, protect emergency care and harness the full potential of technology to deliver the best possible service and intensify our efforts to tackle waiting lists.’
Read more: Record number of Brits paying for medical treatment amid NHS backlog crisis
Among the attendees today are NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard, national medical director Stephen Powis and national clinical director for urgent and emergency care Julian Redhead.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), chief nursing officer Ruth May and the chairs of royal colleges are also expected to attend alongside representatives of community health services in England.
Last year marked the health service’s worst ever winter, with the longest ambulance response times recorded, the worst A&E performance figures ever logged and high hospital bed occupancy.
At the time, the RCEM claimed up to 500 people a week were dying as a result of the delays in accessing emergency care.
Labelling it the ‘worst’ winter ‘we ever saw’, the RCEM’s Dr Boyle today warned the NHS could face a similar picture in the coming months.
He lamented the vast numbers of patients already ‘spending too long waiting to be admitted to hospital’ and ambulance handover delays, with pressure only expected to increase in the coming months.
Dr Boyle, said: ‘We remain concerned about how we’re going to be able to look after our patients this winter.
‘We still have far too many patients spending too long, waiting to be admitted into hospital. This will inevitably cause problems with ambulance handovers and also the problems with people being looked after in corridors last winter.
‘[Last winter] was extremely difficult and in terms of objective measures, it was the worst we ever saw.’
Asked if the NHS could see a repeat of last year this winter, Dr Boyle said: ‘It is certainly a possibility.
‘We still think our system is fragile and not sufficiently resilient to avoid a similar situation next winter.’
He called for urgent action to tackle the number of people waiting for more than 12 hours in A&E.
Separate A&E performance data for July shows emergency departments faced their second busiest July ever, with 2.1million attendances. Three-quarters of emergency department attendees (74 per cent) were seen within four hours. NHS standards set out 95 per cent should be admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour window
Latest ambulance figures for July also show waiting times fell significantly. This is despite ambulances services facing their busiest month since May 2022, with 707,000 calls last month. Heart attack and stroke patients in England, known as category two callers, had to wait an average of 31 minutes and 50 seconds for paramedics to arrive, shaving five minutes off the previous month. The NHS target is 18 minutes, however
Some 23,934 patients who sought help in emergency departments were forced to wait more than 12 hours in July, compared to around 1,600 pre-pandemic.
The RCEM will call for more to be done in terms of staff vaccination against flu and Covid during the meeting today, he revealed.
Health leaders have warned that the NHS has had not respite from pressures this year — comparing the situation to an ‘eternal winter’.
Summer months usually offer hospitals a break ahead of the usual busy spell, when seasonal pressures like flu and norovirus typically kick in.
But NHS England warned last month that this summer is ‘on trajectory to be the busiest in NHS history’.
Read more: Four in 10 patients say their health got worse while on NHS waiting list, major survey reveals
Some 4.42million attendances in A&E were recorded over June and July — up from the record 4.37million logged in 2022.
Ambulance response times improved between June and July but heart attack and stroke victims — officially known as category two callers — were forced to wait around 32 minutes, on average, which is double the NHS 18-minute target.
Handover delays outside hospitals are one of the factors behind the NHS ambulance crisis, experts say.
Paramedic crews are expected to pass all patients over to emergency departments within 15 minutes of arriving at hospital.
But last winter a lack of space inside A&Es forced medics to wait hours before handing patients over.
And it’s not only patients needing ambulances who have been left waiting.
NHS England data shows that the backlog for routine hospital treatment is at the highest level since record began in August 2007, at 7.6million.
For comparison, the figure stood at 4.4.million pre-pandemic.
It means roughly one in seven people across the country are currently stuck in the system awaiting care, including more than 380,000 patients who have been waiting for one year and 7,000 who have been waiting for 18 months.
Rishi Sunak made cutting waiting lists one of his 2023 priorities, pledging in January that ‘lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly’.
However, he has blamed strikes by nurses, junior doctors and consultants for hindering efforts to cut them down.
Both junior doctors and consultants are set to take to the picket lines next week in a joint walkout.
As part of efforts to clear the backlog, the Government has pledged cash incentives for hospitals who ‘overachieve’ on performance measures, such as A&E waiting times and ambulance handover times.
It also announced plans to introduce social care ‘traffic control centres’ to help speed up hospital discharges so patients could be shipped out of hospitals when they no longer needed to be there.
These hubs, likened to travel agents for social care, will act as a single place for staff to co-ordinate the best and quickest discharge options for patients — either at home or into social or community care.
Among the attendees today include NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard (pictured), national medical director, Stephen Powis and national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, Julian Redhead. Summer months usually offer hospitals a break ahead of the usual busy spell, when seasonal pressures like flu and norovirus typically kick in. But last month NHS England said this summer is ‘on trajectory to be the busiest in NHS history’
Other plans include having more ambulances on the road, extra beds in hospitals, a ramping up of the use of ‘acute respiratory hubs’ and more ‘virtual ward’ capacity.
Ahead of today’s meeting, Sarah-Jane Marsh, NHS England’s national director of urgent and emergency care, said: ‘The forthcoming winter will be another challenging one for health and social care, which is why teams across the NHS have been planning for this busy period since the start of summer, including getting more ambulances on the road and putting more hospital and virtual ward beds in place.
‘Thanks to the actions taken, waiting times for ambulances and A&E services are lower compared to last year and the public can play their part over winter by accessing services in line with their needs – using primary care, pharmacy and 111 online or 999 in an emergency.’
The Downing Street meeting comes after Healthwatch England said that more must be done to support people caught up in the record backlog of care.
Patients should get regular updates, health support and access to physiotherapy while on waiting lists, with medics ensuring they had appropriate pain relief, the patient champion organisation said.
New NHS figures on the backlog and A&E and ambulance wait times are due to be published tomorrow.
But data published yesterday showed the number of Brits paying for private medical treatment has now hit a record high.
Around 227,000 people in the UK sought private treatment in the first three months of 2023.
It marks a four per cent jump on the previous record of 219,000 set in the final quarter of 2022.
The rise in demand for paid-for care is being driven by continuing growth in insured treatments — 156,000, up from 149,000 in the fourth quarter of 2022 — as more businesses and households turn to private healthcare plans to safeguard the health of employees due to the growing difficulties in getting treatment on the NHS.
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