NHS Wales chief executive Andrew Goodall has warned the dual challenge of the COVID pandemic and other respiratory viruses will make this winter ‘one of the hardest we have ever faced’, as the NHS Wales Health and Social Care Winter Plan is published.
Recognising the challenges across the health and social care system, there will be an extra £42m funding for social care, some of which will be used to help ease the pressure on hospital beds. This comes on top of £248m already announced for the NHS Covid recovery fund.
The social care investment will be used to improve hospital patient discharges, expand community services and reduce hospital re-admissions among the frail and vulnerable in an effort to ease pressures on bed capacity.
The Winter Plan will help ensure emergency care is able to cope and minimise disruption to planned care.
Ahead of the winter pressures, Andrew Goodall said services needed to remain ready to respond to rapidly changing circumstances, as well as minimising time spent in hospital for those receiving care and supporting people to return home to continue their recovery.
Key priorities in the Winter Plan include:
- protecting people from Covid-19 through the vaccination programme
- keeping people well during higher levels of influenza and seasonal respiratory viruses
- maintaining the resilience of health and social care services
- responding to the mental health impact of the pandemic
- ensuring vulnerable groups have access to the treatment they require
- supporting the health and wellbeing of staff who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic
- working with health and social care organisations to manage pressures across the system
It comes after months of planning and significant investment in health and social care to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
More than £248million has already been invested through the NHS recovery fund to help Health Boards tackle waiting times and transform the way they deliver services.
Much of the funding will help services this winter, like non-urgent patient transport, which will help ease pressure on ambulance services and ensure patients can access the care they need
Other investments across Wales include:
- £14.4m for planned care for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board
- £8.2m for endoscopy at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
- £2.5m for diagnostics endoscopy and £1.4m for diagnostics radiology at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board
- £2.9m for ophthalmology at Hywel Dda University Health Board
- £1.3m for radiology and £2m for endoscopy at Swansea Bay University Health Board
To support patients with urgent clinical needs, central recovery funds for cancer, ophthalmology and dermatology have also been established. This will ensure a focus on these key areas.
A further £25million is being invested in supporting the transformation of urgent and emergency care services to deliver the right care in the right place, first time. The Urgent Primary Care Centre at Royal Gwent Hospital demonstrates how services can work differently, allowing people to access out of hours advice, assessment and care closer to home. This centre will help reduce pressure on emergency departments during winter.
NHS Wales Chief Executive Andrew Goodall said:
We know this winter will be one of the hardest periods we have ever faced, as we face the twin challenges of the pandemic and respiratory viruses, but our Winter Plan will ensure essential services keep running.
Our services need to be agile and able to respond to those who need hospital care when their condition worsens, as well as providing support as close to home as possible to reduce their need to attend hospital to receive care.
Health Minister Eluned Morgan said:
Winter is always a challenging period and the demands on our health and social care system have never been greater than this pandemic period. Our NHS will continue to deliver essential services and is doing everything it can to ensure planned care continues through this busy period. Everyone can play their part too by getting their COVID and flu jabs and thinking about the different options for getting the care they need.
I am also announcing £42m of social care funding today. The pandemic has put the social care system under great strain and we believe investing in allowing people to access the right care at home will prevent unnecessary hospital admissions, speed up patient discharges and create much-needed additional bed capacity in our hospitals.
With this plan and additional funding we can reduce disruption to planned care. However with the pressures on the system I don’t expect us to make real inroads into waiting times until the spring.
But I am determined to tackle this issue and am very aware of what a difficult time it has been for those who have been waiting a long time for treatment. Health Boards will continue to support those who are waiting for treatment.