Warning over lack of preparation for winter

Healthcare bosses in England have warned that the funding intended to add capacity to winter capabilities in the NHS has already been spent dealing with record summer demand.

Hospital heads told The Independent that, despite the government claiming the health service was ‘better prepared than ever’ last year, hospitals will face an ‘even tougher winter’ this year amid both staff and funding shortages. Adding to the pressures, recently released figures reveal how an unprecedented summer heatwave has left no time to tackle the significant backlog in operations.

The newspaper reports that funds usually held in reserve to add capacity in winter were already used up, or useless because there was no one to work. A director of a hospital in Greater Manchester is quoted as saying that, despite having 70 beds on wards they could use to boost capacity, they would have no one to safely staff them because of more than 100 vacant nursing roles.

The NHS is currently seeing more patients than ever before, and in September attendances at A&E rose above two million, marking a seven per cent increase on the previous year.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “The reality on the ground is that we are seeing huge workforce gaps. The gap has gotten bigger [in the past year] but whether it’s growing or shrinking is immaterial because the gaps are there and demand is only going one way.

“We don’t know what will happen with flu, or the weather – obviously – but we do know we had adverse weather over the summer and in some places it exceeded winter demand in A&E. There was not even enough time to get over winter before one of the hottest summers since 1976, so now we’re just getting over the summer and going straight in to winter. That’s massive and it affects money, planning, capacity, workforce.”

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