Hospitals ordered to get winter plan in place
Hospitals in England have been ordered to cut back non- -urgent operations and cancel outpatient appointments in the run-up to Christmas in preparation for a possible winter crisis, official documents have disclosed.
The move comes as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned of a “drastic shortage” of accident and emergency nurses, with departments across the country “buckling” under the pressure.
Measures include reducing the number of “elective” procedures carried out in the period immediately before Christmas to create more “non-elective capacity” and cancelling some outpatient activity.
Trusts will also be required to produce “clear discharge plans” for inpatients prior to the holiday period to provide more beds and patients will be encouraged to make “appropriate choices” on using pharmacies, walk-in centres and GPs to reduce “inappropriate attendance” at A&E.
Dr Cliff Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “What is really worrying is that when you look at last winter, the NHS came under very heavy pressures despite mild weather and little flu. All it would take is a bad flu outbreak this winter and we would be poleaxed.”
But Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust has said this is nothing up new and they have contingency plans in place for winter every year.
They have already started the process of preparing for winter, having launched a new integrated discharge hub in a bid to sped up the discharge process and free up beds.
Even so, WWL has seen a huge increase in patients attending its A&E since the closure of the emergency department at Chorley in April.
And with Chorley not expected to open until at least April next year, the added pressure on WWL is likely to continue throughout the winter months.
A spokesman for WWL said: “We see very little variation in A&E attendances throughout the year but during winter we do see a seasonal increase in admission.
“However we have a borough wide robust winter resilience plan and we work closely with colleagues from the Health and Social Care economy.
“This helps us to reduce the circumstances where patients are medically optimised for discharge. We have introduced a new Integrated Discharge Hub on the Wigan Infirmary site three months ago and this has been a tremendously positive development for our trust and our patients.
“As with all A&E departments maintaining the four hour patient access target has been a challenge.
“Despite these challenges we are still the top performing A&E in the Greater Manchester area.”
A spokesman for NHS England said: “The NHS again proved resilient this winter despite further increase in demand, with fewer trusts reporting serious operational issues and a significant reduction in trolley waits.
“We are already preparing for the upcoming winter with hospitals, GPs, social services and other health professionals coming together to work out the best way of responding in every area of the country.”