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The NHS plan for winter uses new technology and hard work to deliver for those who need us

4 min read

The 75th year of the NHS has been its busiest yet.

Despite significant pressure and record numbers of patients presenting with increasingly complex needs, NHS staff continued to expand access to care to meet growing demand. Whether that be through record numbers of GP and outpatient appointments, or checks and tests for cancer, I have consistently seen staff go above and beyond over the past 12 months.

On routine care, the NHS is treating more people than before the pandemic, with over 25,000 more appointments and procedures carried out in September compared with the same month in 2019, and in mental health tens of thousands of additional appointments are being delivered every week.

To provide the best possible care for patients this winter, however, we cannot rely on the efforts of our brilliant staff alone; both innovation and planning are vital components of the work going on across the country.

On innovation, we are investing in new technologies to support patients and deliver faster and more efficient care. For example, artificial intelligence and remote monitors are being used to identify patients at risk of needing to go to hospital, so they can be contacted by health coaches, nurses, or GPs, who can provide a range of support.

The NHS App is helping millions of people to perform routine tasks like arranging repeat prescriptions, freeing up GP time, while specific apps are also being rolled out to help patients, including one that can identify if they are at risk of chronic kidney disease and associated cardiovascular disease.

Apps and upgraded patient record and care coordination systems are also being used to ensure clinicians have ready access to data, ensuring they can help patients access the right care more quickly.

Alongside innovation, a key part of our approach is how we plan operationally and coordinate services. This is why this year we started the NHS plan for winter earlier than ever before. 

This plan sets out a series of actions, backed by clinical evidence, that aim to boost frontline resilience ahead of the winter months.

We are expanding capacity inside and outside of hospitals - we are on track to create 5,000 additional permanent beds, put 800 new ambulances on the roads, and we have already delivered more than 10,000 world-leading virtual ward beds across the country.

Virtual wards have already allowed more than 240,000 people to get hospital level care in the comfort of their own home. And from October, the conditions for which patients can be treated in these wards has expanded to include illnesses like heart failure. 

Working with partners in social care, we are also continuing to focus on speeding up discharge for those who need additional support to return home, ensuring patients do not have to spend longer than necessary in hospital. 

Initiatives like acute respiratory hubs for covid, flu and RSV, mean patients will be able to get the most appropriate care for their needs and avoid unnecessary trips to hospital – this is better for patients, and means hardworking NHS staff can continue to prioritise those with the most urgent clinical need in our A&Es.

If patients are unsure of which NHS service to go to, they can use NHS 111 - either online, on the phone or via the NHS App - to get assessed and directed to the right place for them.

And importantly, our world-leading vaccination programmes has once again stepped up to protect the public at thousands of convenient sites across the country. NHS teams delivered our fastest ever start to the flu vaccine campaign on record, and to date have delivered over 15 million flu and 10 million covid vaccines to those at highest risk in your communities. 

Winter always presents challenges for health and care services. But through a combination of continued hard work, harnessing new technologies and delivering on our plans, the NHS stands ready once again to be there for those who need it over the coming months.

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