NHS setting up ‘war rooms’ to prepare for England’s ‘toughest winter on record’

The NHS is setting up data-driven “war rooms” as it prepares for what could be England’s “toughest winter on record”, new plans have revealed.

Under the government’s winter preparation plan, which aims to help the NHS cope during the colder months, the 24/7 “care traffic control centres” are expected to be created in every local area.

The hubs, led by teams of clinicians and experts, will manage demand and capacity across England by constantly tracking the number of beds available and people attending hospital.

It is hoped the centres will make it easier and quicker for decisions, such as if hospitals need extra assistance or if ambulances need to be diverted, to be made.

It will mark the first time a system has been used to take stock of all activity and performance within the NHS.

Rapid response teams to help people who have fallen at home are also being set up across the country to prevent unnecessary hospital trips.

NHS England believes this expansion could see about 55,000 ambulance trips freed up to treat other patients each year.

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Under the plans, care providers will also be given more support to deal with falls, with around two in five hospital admissions from care homes currently related to patients falling over.

On top of that, NHS chiefs have vowed to roll out around-the-clock access to professional mental health advice within ambulance services to help give more people access to the correct community support.

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‘Be prepared for things to get even tougher’

In a letter to all NHS foundation trusts, signed by the health service’s chief executive Amanda Pritchard, chief financial officer Julian Kelly and chief operating officer David Sloman, staff have been told “the coming weeks and months will be difficult”.

“We continue to be in a Level 3 incident, and services are under continued, significant pressure, with challenges including timely discharge of patients impacting on patient flow within hospitals, alongside ongoing pressures in mental health services,” it stated.

“We therefore all need to be prepared for things to get even tougher over the coming weeks and months.

“We will support you in doing your best under these very difficult circumstances, including as you work with and support clinical leaders to ensure risk is managed appropriately across local systems.”

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Respiratory infections expected to take up half of all NHS beds

It comes as the NHS is expecting to see a “very challenging winter”, with respiratory infections, including COVID, flu and pneumonia, predicted to be one of the most significant pressures.

Recent modelling has suggested that such health issues could occupy up to half of all NHS beds throughout the already busy season.

Therefore, the NHS is preparing earlier and more extensively than usual, with the plans also aiming to create extra bed capacity in hospitals and in the community, and a drive to increase the number of 111 and 999 call handlers.

“This winter could be the toughest on record for the NHS, which is exactly why services are working together early to make sure patients get the care they need, where they need it most,” said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

Ms Pritchard added: “Winter comes hot on the heels of an extremely busy summer – and with the combined impact of flu, COVID and record NHS staff vacancies – in many ways, we are facing more than the threat of a ‘twindemic’ this year.”

The autumn COVID booster programme will continue to be rolled out throughout winter, with more than eight million people already receiving their top-up jab.

People aged 50 or over and those considered at high risk of catching COVID are among those currently able to get the extra dose.

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