How prepared is the NHS in Wales to cope with this winter season?

26 November 2013

Article written by Rebekah James, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

The NHS in Wales faced a number of pressures during the cold and extended winter of 2012-13, including missed ambulance response time targets and an increase in A&E attendance.  In some areas operations were cancelled due to a lack of beds.  In response to this, the Welsh Government and the NHS have been making plans for the forthcoming winter.  The Minister for Health and Social Services and the Deputy Minister for Social Services attended the Health and Social Care Committee on 9 October 2013 to discuss preparations for this winter and to respond to Members’ concerns about whether the inevitable increase in demand during this period will be managed safely.

Image from Flickr by Chris Sampson.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

Image from Flickr by Chris Sampson. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

The Minister provided written evidence to the Committee highlighting examples of plans being put in place to relieve the pressures on unscheduled care services and to deal with this winter season.  Planning at national and Local Health Board (LHB) level is taking place, including all LHBs and the Welsh Ambulance Service developing unscheduled care plans and formal winter plans; a National Winter Planning Forum has been held, and a Seasonal Planning Group is in place.

During the Committee meeting, Committee Members questioned the Minister on a range of issues relating to unscheduled care services that could impact on preparedness for winter.  Issues raised by Members included A&E attendance; bed capacity; delayed transfers of care; workforce challenges; the ambulance service; GP and out-of-hours services and the flu vaccination campaign.  The Minister outlined plans being put in place and actions being taken in response to these issues.

An additional £150 million for NHS Wales in 2013-14 was announced in October 2013 which could be used by LHBs to plan for winter more effectively, although the Minister explained that the extra funding has not been hypothecated specifically to deliver improvements in unscheduled care services over the winter period.  The Minister published a statement in October 2013 outlining details of how the extra funding will be distributed.

In his written evidence to the Committee the Minister admitted that “a combination of challenges mean there can still be an expectation of a difficult winter ahead”.  The Committee intends to hold a follow-up session on unscheduled care in Spring 2014 to consider the progress and delivery of the programme for unscheduled care services in Wales.