Health services face strain this winter, report warns

The strain on hospitals this winter could exceed the levels seen last year, an NHS membership organisation has warned in a new report that calls for emergency funds to be provided.

NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England, said that hospitals were “dangerously short” of beds, and that they could face greater problems than last year due to the failure of a scheme aimed at freeing up 2,000 to 3,000 beds by the end of August.

The scheme was aimed at reducing the number of beds occupied by people who are fit to be discharged but cannot leave. NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said that the 3.5 per cent target would be missed, adding: “Hospitals this winters will still be too full of people whom we can’t discharge, even though they are medically fit to leave, because of problems with social care. Failure to do so leaves us dangerously short of capacity.”

The NHS Providers report calls for emergency funds of between £200 and £350 million to help health services prepare for the demand spike this winter. 

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said: “This sombre report reflects the enormous pressure currently being faced by the NHS in England. As it makes clear, NHS Trusts are likely to struggle this winter - the truth is that the whole system, including those who commission care, as well as those who provide both health and care services are facing very difficult choices. 

“Last year the NHS managed incredibly well but we cannot continue just to rely on a hope that viruses will not wreak havoc, that the weather will be clement and that staff commitment will get us through.

“As summer fades, the prospect of another difficult winter looms. The challenge lies not just in hospitals - we have shortages of community nurses, GPs, social care services and nursing home places, all of which are vital in taking pressure off the hospitals.”

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