NHS setting up 'war rooms' as it prepares for 'toughest winter on record'

The NHS is setting up ‘war rooms’ as it prepares for one of the toughest winters in its history, officials have announced.

In a letter to staff, health leaders in England set out ‘winter resilience plans’.

This includes new 24/7 system control centres which are expected to be created in every local area.

These centres will be expected to manage demand and capacity across the entire country by constantly tracking beds and attendances.

They will be manned by ‘clinicians and experts’ who can make quick decisions about ‘emerging challenges’ in the health service, NHS England said.

The ‘data-driven’ centres will be able to spot when hospitals near capacity and could benefit from ‘mutual aid’.

And where A&Es are especially busy, ambulances will be diverted to nearby hospitals with more space.

Meanwhile, NHS England announced plans to expand falls response services so people are treated in their homes, avoiding unnecessary trips to hospital where possible.

Officials estimate this could free up around 55,000 ambulance trips each year.

Other plans include:

– Local ‘respiratory infections hubs’ – which will aim to offer patients same day out-of-hospital care for Covid, flu, acute bronchitis and pneumonia.

– More hospital bed spaces and more 111 and 999 call handlers.

– 24/7 access to professional mental health advice in ambulance services.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘Winter comes hot on the heels of an extremely busy summer – and with the combined impact of flu, Covid and record NHS staff vacancies – in many ways, we are facing more than the threat of a “twindemic” this year.

‘So it is right that we prepare as much as possible – the NHS is going further than it ever has before in anticipation of a busy winter, and today we have set out further plans to step up these preparations – building on our existing plans to boost capacity set out in August this year.

‘Whether it be new services to support people who have fallen at home, hubs to treat respiratory infections, or system control centres helping us to navigate pressures across the entire country, every one of these initiatives will make a real impact on the ground – helping to relieve pressure on frontline staff as well as seeing patients quickly and directing them to where they can receive the best possible care.

‘Vaccines remain an important part of our defence this winter – everyone who is eligible has the power to protect themselves from both flu and Covid – so please do book in today if you haven’t already.’

Health minister Robert Jenrick added: ‘We are determined to deliver for patients and have set out our ABCD priorities to prepare for the winter months ahead – ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists – alongside Our Plan For Patients to ease pressure on the NHS.’

He said the Government was also investing £500 million to boost the adult social care workforce.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘This winter could be the toughest on record for the NHS, which is exactly why services are working together early on to make sure patients get the care they need, where they need it most.

‘With falls leading to thousands of ambulance call-outs and admissions to A&E, it is vital that the NHS uses its limited resources to best effect as this will provide value for money to taxpayers and improve patient experience.’

Commenting on the plans, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, said: ‘Patients are finding it impossible to get a GP appointment, ambulance, or operation when they need one.

‘After 12 years of Conservative mismanagement, the NHS no longer has the staff it needs to treat patients on time, and nothing in this plan addresses the lack of doctors and nurses.

‘Sticking plasters won’t do. We need a government that will grip this crisis and deal with the root cause.

‘The next Labour government will launch the biggest expansion of medical training in history, providing the doctors and nurses needed to treat patients on time, paid for by abolishing non-doms.’

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