Although winter will bring big challenges for the NHS and care sector this year, leaders say their services are working more closely than ever before to plan ahead and make best use of all available resources.

To help, the public are also being urged to plan ahead, to prevent ill health wherever possible this winter.

Dr Jeremy Welch, from NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group said:

“Winter is always a tough time for health and care services.

However, due to the increased demand already being experienced by under pressure teams, the often complex needs of patients, the need for strong COVID-19 infection control arrangements and a likely increase in flu and COVID-19 related illness, this will make it even more difficult this year.

We are doing all we can to plan in advance and ensure we have a strong plan that strengthens our ability to cope, respond as one at times of escalation and maintain the very best care for service users.”

In support of this year’s Winter Plan for Gloucestershire, additional national and local funds have been agreed (in excess of £2m).

Some examples of the measures being taken:

  • GP surgeries offering additional face to face, telephone and video appointments where appropriate
  • Using advice and guidance technology so that GPs can quickly access a specialist opinion from hospital consultants
  • Recruiting additional staff across health and social care, including Nurses and Health Care Assistants
  • Making best use of the two large hospital sites to ensure planned surgery can continue and reducing the backlog built up during the first phases of the COVID-19 response
  • Introducing a raft of measures to reduce ambulance handover delays at times of peak pressure, including enhanced clinical triage (doctors  and nurses using their clinical skills to provide additional advice and assessment over the phone)
  • Increasing capacity in the A&E departments and ensuring people are seen by the most appropriate member of the team first time, by-passing waiting in A&E if appropriate and going straight to an assessment service
  • Introducing the Clinical Assessment Service (CAS) for NHS 111/Out of Hours to increase clinical support and advice to people remaining at home or being directed and booked into local NHS services
  • Ensuring services are in place to assess, treat and support older people to return home from hospital on the same day, with on-going support if needed
  • Investing in additional NHS funded beds, including in the independent sector
  • Making sure arrangements are in place for people to leave hospital safely:
    • additional staff working in the hospital to home teams
    • investing in more care home beds
    • increasing access to reablement and domiciliary (home) care staff – providing nursing care for patients and families at home where needed
  • Increasing capacity in joined up community health and care teams/rapid response services
  • Voluntary sector organisation partners providing a follow up service to ensure patients are being supported to remain at home after leaving hospital.

Director of Quality and Chief Nurse at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Professor Steve Hams said:

“This really is a comprehensive plan and ensures that despite the inevitable pressures that will face health and care services, we have the best possible measures in place to maintain high quality care for those most in need.

However, we recognise that for nearly two years, frontline teams in primary, community, hospital and emergency care have worked harder and longer than ever before and we need to ensure their health and wellbeing and rest and recuperation is also factored in. I’d like to ask for the public’s patience and kindness towards all staff, in the months ahead.”

Medical Director for Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Amjad Uppal, said:

“The colder months always present some additional challenges, particularly for our service users who are vulnerable, perhaps through their age or medical conditions. This will be the second winter where we will also be dealing with the ongoing impact of COVID-19, so it’s important we all play our part in keeping people safe and well.

We are working  with our partners as well as our communities to do everything we can to plan and support services, but everyone can help – so please work with us, take on board and share our prevention messages and look out for each other at what is a difficult time for many.”

Executive Director for Adult Social Care and Public Health at Gloucestershire County Council, Professor Sarah Scott said:

“Getting vaccinated remains the best way to protect against COVID-19 and seasonal viruses. If you are eligible for a COVID booster, flu jab, or both, I’d urge you to take up the offer as soon as possible. Equally, if you still need to have your first or second dose of the COVID vaccine, it’s not too late.

There are other simple steps we can all take to help slow the spread of viruses; let fresh air in when inside, wear a face covering in busy enclosed spaces, wash your hands regularly and stay at home if you feel unwell, to avoid passing anything on to others. It is also important to consider what we can do to look after loved ones who may be frail and need extra care and support this winter.”

The NHS has also thanked the great majority of local people who are accessing services appropriately and responding to the county’s Click or Call First campaign messages.

Dr Welch added:

“It’s important that we all continue to play our part and carefully consider the range of healthcare options available, particularly for minor injury and illness.

The local ASAP Glos NHS App and website and can signpost people to the right care for them, including pharmacies and minor injury and illness units. The 111 phone service can also provide advice and book people into local NHS services if needed.”