As the evenings shorten and winter creeps in, the focus is on managing the winter-surge in demand on NHS services. With an anticipated increase in emergencies and high-risk patients, hospitals are expecting increased bed-space occupancy and longer A&E waiting times. To alleviate this, attention is on hospital avoidance and post-hospital care. Ann Taylor, CEO of Hilton Nursing Partners, discusses this and observes that the winter months are simply business as usual in the healthcare sector
There has been a media storm surrounding NHS plans for coping with the inevitable demand on services over the winter period. In order to minimise the pressures on frontline healthcare services over the winter months we have seen the NHS roll out a flu-jab drive – with free vaccinations offered to millions – as well as a record expansion in training for A&E consultants and other healthcare staff. Further, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) is due to issue practical guidance for clinical and system managers to help hospitals prepare for winter.
“The NHS no longer experiences unique pressure in winter, there are bed occupancy concerns year-round. Nevertheless, holiday periods and times of extreme weather conditions can be critical,” Ann Taylor, CEO of Hilton Nursing Partners says. These are some level-headed words to bear in when considering your practices plans for dealing with the winter-influx of patients.
While much attention is put on A&E services, the truth is that GP practices and other primary care services are impacted in two ways: they are pivotal to hospital avoidance and provide much of the post-hospital care and/or support.
“There are flexible schemes available to hospitals which can support hospital admission surges by numbers; during particularly difficult times,” Ann says, further explaining that third-party partners, such as Hilton Nursing Partners, are able to support hospital avoidance services and, also, ‘discharge-to-assess models. “Our hospital avoidance service can help the elderly to receive the care they need – at home – whilst avoiding long A&E waiting times. It also ensures that hospitals can admit those that require critical hospital attention” she explains.
While not directly commissioned by GP practices, Ann and her team at Hilton Nursing Partners do work closely with GP practices as part of their admission avoidance service. The importance of this communication – if not collaboration – is that practices are aware of patient concerns and wellbeing and can potentially intervene rather than patients making the journey to hospital.
Having support such as that Ann and her team provides through models such as ‘discharge-to-assess’ should result in the reduction of delayed transfers of care (DTOCS). “The discharge-to-assess model means that patient assessments are undertaken at home – as soon as the patient is medically fit to leave hospital. This frees up hospital bed space and ensures that the patient has a much more appropriate and comfortable assessment in their own home,” Ann explains. A service that, ideally, reduces the pressure on NHS services – in hospital and in the community.
With the countdown to winter well and truly under way – (is this the last of the autumnal warmth?) – understanding your patient needs, the pressure that is on other health care providers in your area, as well as the alternative support services available and how your practice can work them might be a sure way of beating the winter woes.