News story

NHS well prepared for cold winter pressures

NHS plans for winter in place earlier than ever before.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


NHS leaders, GPs, social services and other health professionals have run one of the widest winter planning exercises the NHS has ever seen.

Local medical experts identified pressure points and a range of measures to address them, including:

  • more action to keep people out of hospital
  • closer involvement of GPs and social service organisations
  • a public information campaign encouraging people with non-urgent medical problems to use the full range of NHS services

More people are using accident and emergency (A&E) departments than ever before, with 22 million visits a year. The NHS handles more than 3,000 extra attendances every day than in 2010. The NHS is performing well and treating the vast majority of people quickly, thanks to hardworking NHS staff. However, the pressures are real and it is vital the NHS is well supported.

Earlier this year, the government agreed an initial £400 million to improve local health services. This additional funding has been allocated and is being used to deliver detailed resilience plans, developed by local partnerships made up of local NHS, councils and social care leaders, and approved by:

  • NHS England
  • Monitor
  • the NHS Trust Development Authority working with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services

Today, the government has announced a further £300 million to help the NHS, which will provide more bed space and pay for additional clinical staff. This means the NHS can better plan for seasonal variation in demand while recognising the need to ensure that services are financially sustainable.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

The NHS is under unprecedented demand, with a million more visits to A&E each year compared to 2010 and 2,000 extra ambulance journeys a day. Our hardworking doctors and nurses continue to see the vast majority of patients quickly and treat them compassionately.

But we know the cold weather can bring added pressure so, as in previous years, we’ve given the NHS extra resources to make sure it is better prepared than ever before, with robust local plans in place from June which address the need to plan for year round demands. We are boosting frontline services and expect the NHS to ensure strong performance is delivered locally.

Speaking on behalf of the NHS, Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said:

Week in week out NHS staff go the extra mile to ensure their patients get excellent care, but an ageing and growing population means that service pressures are rising, so this winter the NHS will be pulling out all the stops.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said:

It’s great news for people across the country that the NHS is well-prepared for the extra pressures of winter. As part of creating a fairer society, I have prioritised health funding and worked closely with the Department of Health to earmark an additional £300 million for the NHS.

As part of our drive for a stronger economy, the government is now calling on all hospitals and local commissioners to continue to work together to ensure that proper planning includes good financial management, which is crucial to ensuring high quality patient care.

David Flory, Chief Executive of the NHS Trust Development Authority, said:

The NHS is going into winter when it is already under significant pressure, but clinicians and managers in hospitals up and down the country are all working hard to make sure that patients get the care they need when they need it. We know that some organisations face challenges and that’s why it’s important we do all we can to support those local teams, so today’s additional investment is very welcome.

David Bennett, Chief Executive of Monitor, said:

The NHS is facing unprecedented operational pressures. Monitor is working closely with national and local partners to ensure services are resilient and that the NHS secures the right outcomes for patients this winter. The tripartite arrangement is a practical support mechanism that helps those NHS providers that cannot resolve operational issues within their own resources.

Over winter, A&E departments and GPs are under increased pressure because more people with complex and long term conditions, particularly respiratory, need urgent care. Last month, the NHS launched a major campaign encouraging people with non-urgent medical problems to use the full range of NHS services.

The campaign, ‘feeling under the weather’, encourages people, particularly older people and those with respiratory conditions, to seek early advice from their local pharmacist. Those with existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or bronchitis, are particularly vulnerable, and for frailer and older people, even the common cold can become more serious.

This year, social care organisations have played a bigger role in winter planning and are represented on local planning groups. This has improved the links between hospitals, GPs and local councils.

Plans have been in place since June that mean hospitals, local authorities and clinical commissioning groups are now working together. The move was welcomed by the College of Emergency Medicine and Foundation Trust Network.

Based on the range of innovative solutions being introduced across the country, the Department of Health estimates there is the potential for:

  • up to the equivalent of 1,000 extra doctors and 2,000 extra nurses (full time equivalent (FTE) positions), including extended hours and new positions
  • up to 2,000 other NHS staff, including physiotherapists, social workers and occupational therapists (FTE positions) including temporary staff, extended hours and new positions
  • up to 2,500 extra beds both in acute hospitals and also in the community sector
  • over £25 million to increase access to GPs
  • £50 million to support ambulance services in a range of ways including meeting additional demand, and to help them return to meeting the standard as quickly as possible

With many A&Es running at full capacity, NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh’s review into the future of emergency and urgent care services in England will ensure the A&E system meets patients’ needs over the long term.

Published 14 November 2014