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Winter or Summer the pressure’s on, says NHS Alliance

Rick Stern, Chief Executive, NHS Alliance

Winter pressures schemes should be recurrently funded - 365 days a year so that real solutions can be permanent and built into existing structures, says the NHS Alliance.

Posted: 2 April 2014

In its response to the winter pressures on health services inquiry which is being conducted by the Primary Care and Public Health All Party Parliamentary Group, the Alliance noted, ‘We need to better understand what drives people to use urgent care services the way they do – and what needs to happen so that people and families keep well and can manage their health issues.’

NHS Alliance members are engaged in work which shows ‘there is a mismatch between what people say matters, and what those planning and delivering health services believe needs to be done. This lack of in-depth insight into what matters is leading the NHS to perpetuate dependency on a medically-led model, rather than build resilience, empowerment and community-led solutions that recognise a social model of health and care,’ the NHS Alliance stated.

So-called ‘winter pressures’ could ease with better use of community pharmacy it noted. ‘We need to use community pharmacy more – throughout the whole year – to support General practice and A&E services, commissioning them to deliver services such as flu vaccinations. A number of minor projects were commissioned within community pharmacy to support winter pressure initiatives last year, but they were all too late, too small and poorly publicised to make any difference at all. Only a fraction of community pharmacies have NHS Choices touch screens, a small percentage have minor ailment schemes and most of those have limited supply of medicines and very poor connection with General practice. And none have any supportive technology. This needs to change.’

Rick Stern (pictured), Chief Executive, NHS Alliance said, ‘It is a statement of the obvious that temperature tends to drop in winter and creates additional hazards for the old and vulnerable. Yet each year the NHS treats this predictable cycle as a surprise, reacting to “winter pressures” rather than planning to ensure that services that will make a difference are in place. New services have too little time to get going and are often scrapped before they have made an impact. Rather than short-term funding we need a sustainable view of how we can improve care across the system. Hastily developed projects give a sense of urgency but are unlikely to make a difference to the people who most need our support and tend to frustrate front line staff.

‘In contrast, working with partners across health, social care, housing and the wider community, throughout the year, can lead to innovative solutions.’

Merron Simpson, Special Housing Advisor, said up to 7 million people in England are affected by fuel poverty. ‘We know that living at low temperatures is associated with respiratory, cardiovascular and other health problems. There are ways of keeping people warmer at home which can reduce pressure on health services and excess winter deaths, but the solutions are not usually at the disposal of doctors and community health providers. This is an example of where closer working between health, housing and community-based organisations, focused on the needs of individuals, could save both lives and money.’