As the weather gets colder the number of patients seeking medical attention grows dramatically. This can be the product of worsening long-term conditions such as arthritis or asthma, which are affected by the cold temperatures, or as a result of the heightened chance of slips, trips and falls.
This sudden increase of people needing the help and support of medical professionals, often in the emergency department, can put the NHS under great strain. However, knowing that winter pressures can be a burden to the health service often prompts the government to release additional funding to these services, to cope with the demand.
Throughout 2014, there has been one of the widest preparation schemes in place to alleviate the burden of winter pressures. NHS leaders, GPs, social services and other health professionals have all teamed together to determine ways that some of this pressure can be taken off the health service.
The group decided that there were three main areas that should be focused on to take some stress off the NHS: keeping people out of hospital, involving GPs and social service organisations, and encouraging people with non-urgent medical problems to use the full range of NHS services.
This is because the number of patients seeking emergency care has significantly risen over the past few years, with some 22 million visits every year to A&E departments. Currently, the NHS deals with more than 3,000 extra attendances every day than it did during 2010. Despite this, the health service continues to perform well and deliver a high standard of care to patients.
During this period, GPs also come under pressure due to the number of people suffering with complex and long-term conditions, especially those that affect the lungs. A campaign was launched last month by the NHS, which encouraged patients to use other services if their condition was not urgent.
The ‘feeling under the weather’ initiative aims to highlight the important role of pharmacists in the community; hoping people will seek their advice during the colder months. This helps GPs by taking pressure off the number of appointments that are available but also helps vulnerable people, such as the elderly, get help and support as soon as they need it.
This year, social care organisations have played a bigger role in winter planning and are represented on local planning groups. This has improved the links between hospitals, GPs and local councils.
Earlier this year, the government announced that £400 million of additional funding would be allocated to improve local services. However, last month, an additional £300 million was released towards the NHS, which will work to boost the number of beds available to patients during this high-pressure period, and ensure there is the amount of staff necessary to deal with them rapidly.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "The NHS is under unprecedented demand, with a million more visits to A&E each year compared to 2010 and 2,000 extra ambulance journeys a day. Our hardworking doctors and nurses continue to see the vast majority of patients quickly and treat them compassionately."
However, he added that the cold weather can bring added pressure so the government has allocated further resources to the NHS to make sure it is better prepared than ever before, with robust local plans in place from June which address the need to plan for year round demands.
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