A high-level meeting will take place at Downing Street this Wednesday as NHS leaders, ministers, including the prime minister, health secretary, and NHS England chief Amanda Pritchard convene to discuss strategies for the upcoming winter season. Primary discussions will revolve around assessing and compiling additional requirements to adequately equip the NHS for the increased demand during winter.
Given the escalating concerns about the NHS’s capacity to manage the current scenario, marked by a historic high in hospital waiting lists, potential doctor strikes, and prolonged waiting times for emergency care, the meeting holds significant relevance. A key solution proposed for dealing with the situation entails the introduction of 10,000 “virtual” hospital beds, which facilitate remote patient monitoring by doctors at the patient’s home. This modern approach to healthcare has seen effective implementation in recent years for a host of conditions such as respiratory infections and heart problems.
There is also a planned initiative for the speedier discharge of medically fit patients through ‘care traffic control centres’. These centres are centralised hubs where NHS, community, housing, and charity teams collaborate to streamline post-hospital care for discharged patients.
In a statement prior to the meeting, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak emphasised the crucial need to involve “the best minds” in crafting a foolproof winter plan. Both the government and the NHS share a unified aim – ensuring patient welfare and guaranteeing essential care during winter.
Sarah-Jane Marsh, NHS England’s director of urgent and emergency care, acknowledged the impending winter’s challenges, but reassured that the NHS has been proactive in preparing for it, crafting strategic plans since the start of summer.
Meanwhile, think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) advocates for a substantial overhaul of the health and care system, rendering it sustainably effective for the long term. Spearheading suggestions for reform is the proposal of free personal care for the elderly and frail, similar to the system functioning in Scotland. This measure, the IPPR argues, can considerably alleviate the pressure on NHS, barring a potential tax increase to cover the estimated annual cost of £5bn.
The IPPR contends an investment in free personal care could present a strategic solution to manage the financial burden on health and care services given the ageing population. The introduction of such a system could also bridge the currently existing partition between social care, managed by councils, and the NHS.
In addition to these suggested changes, the IPPR also proposes the creation of neighborhood health and care hubs. These centralized locations would help coordinate a range of necessary services such as social care, NHS community support, hospital outpatient services, and mental health care. This integrated approach could represent a significant step forward in improving the efficiency and scope of health and social care services.