NHS doctors have been able to cope with the additional pressures associated with the winter weather so far, according to a new report.
The NHS Confederation has canvassed feedback from a number of its members on their experiences of providing care during the first two weeks of January 2014, revealing that additional winter funding, improvements to local planning and innovative new ways of working are helping to ensure staff are able to meet the needs of patients.
A clinical director of an acute trust told the confederation that the number of patients attending medical wards is roughly the same compared with last year, but there have been noticeable variations, with increases of up to 30 per cent at weekends.
Better collaborative working has created more capacity outside of hospital, allowing more timely discharge to be achieved, while innovations such as patient flow support officers are also helping to ensure the current levels of demand are being addressed.
However, other staff members and managers offered a warning that any further drop in temperatures could result in a continued rise in patient numbers, especially within accident and emergency departments.
It was suggested that additional funding may be necessary to account for this eventuality, while it was also noted that making more money available at an early stage in future will make it easier for NHS organisation to take on additional staff during busy periods such as winter.
Chief operating officer at the NHS Confederation Matt Tee said: "Sustainable access to local primary and community care is key to preventing patients from using urgent and emergency care services when they don't need to.
"The focus has to shift from patients using A&E by default to an NHS which provides the right type of care, in the right place and at the right time."
Patient numbers typically increase during the winter period due to the harsh weather and cold temperatures, a trend that has been exacerbated this year because of the floods that have stricken many parts of the country.
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