Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
I am pleased to update Members on our planning approach to support resilient urgent and emergency care services this winter.
It is likely the winter period will present additional challenges to an already stretched urgent and emergency care system if there are increases in prevalence of both COVID-19 and influenza, and within the context of the cost of living and energy crises. Members will know there are plans in progress focusing on COVID-19 and influenza vaccination, and additional support for vulnerable people most likely to feel the impact of rising costs this winter.
Planning for seasonal peaks in pressure is a year-round exercise and development of interventions that will enable additional resilience commenced many months ago. Additionally, a winter planning framework has been issued to NHS Wales organisations and Regional Partnership Boards to support them to plan and deliver resilient urgent and emergency care services this winter.
Since Spring 2022, Health Boards have been working with partners to develop local urgent and emergency care plans focused on a small number of priorities set by the Welsh Government that will support people to access the right care, in the right place, first time. To support consistency and harness momentum, the winter planning framework sets out expectations for Health Boards to work with partners to build on these priorities and develop enhanced interventions for the winter period. These priorities include:
- A national communications campaign to raise awareness of NHS 111 Wales, encouraging the public to use the 111 service as a first port of call for free, trusted health information to help ensure they access the right service, first time;
- Optimising the role of third sector services to improve experience and outcomes for vulnerable people who access care in Emergency Departments or hospitals;
- Increasing opportunities for people with urgent care complaints to be assessed and treated away from the Emergency Department and within Urgent Primary Care Centres;
- £3m for the recruitment of 100 new ambulance clinicians expected to be operational by the end of December;
- Increasing emergency ambulance response capacity through implementation of new staff rosters to deliver efficiency equivalent to around 70 whole time equivalents;
- Reducing long ambulance patient handover delays to improve experience and unlock ambulance capacity;
- A further £2m has been made available for health boards to improve their emergency department environments, to enhance patient experiences this winter; and
- Extending same day emergency care services to seven-day accessibility to help people who may have ordinarily been admitted to hospital to return home to sleep in their own bed.
In addition, Health Boards and Local Authorities have developed plans to increase community bed or bed equivalent capacity ahead of the winter period. These plans will aim to deliver additional step down to recover provision and community responses through a shared endeavour amongst partners.
This additional capacity will be delivered alongside additional measures to boost the community care workforce, and is a key element of our enhanced winter planning approach. It will support people to return home or to their local communities when ready and as a consequence it should improve timeliness of care in other parts of the urgent and emergency care system.
I expect Health Boards to work collaboratively with partners through Regional Partnership Boards to refine plans, drawing on learning from the previous winter and the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, with a focus on patient safety and wellbeing.
Health Boards will be expected to submit winter resilience plans to their respective Boards for approval, and a review of each Health Board’s plan will form part of Welsh Government Integrated Quality Planning and Delivery meetings in October.
I will provide Members with further updates throughout the winter period.