Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
As we move into the summer period, we are seeing lower levels of respiratory viruses circulating in the community and in health and social care settings. We know however that we are likely to see a resurgence during autumn and winter and we are considering what measures are needed to help prepare and ease some of the pressures we may see within health and social care.
Winter 2022/23 was a particularly challenging time for urgent and emergency care services across the UK. We have undertaken an in-depth analysis of the late autumn and winter period in collaboration with leaders from the NHS Executive, Health Boards and NHS Trusts and are actively using findings to shape plans for seasonal pressures throughout the remainder of this calendar year and into the winter 2023/2024 season. Our intent is to enable the system to provide more resilient services and to better manage peaks in demand, especially for identified higher risk cohorts of patients this winter.
National programmes are actively developing or delivering interventions to support people living with frailty, older people, children and people at greater risk because of respiratory illnesses, with the objective of managing more people in the community where safe to do so and ensuring robust pathways are in place to meet individual’s needs.
Last winter local authorities and NHS partners worked jointly to deliver an additional 670 step-down beds and community packages. We want to build on this partnership approach through our work on Further, Faster. The recently announced up to £30m ‘Building Capacity through Community Care - Further, Faster’ programme will specifically target interventions to be delivered this year to support better outcomes for people living with frailty. This includes recruiting more community health and care workers, investing in Technology Enabled Care, increasing the availability of community nurses across Wales and strengthening community specialist palliative care.
Key deliverables described in the Six Goals for Urgent and Emergency Care programme plan will also continue to be supported by £25m in Welsh Government funding. In addition to these programmes, work is underway to:
- Develop a new emergency pressures escalation framework to support more proactive management of pressure across the system;
- Design a new urgent and emergency care operational dashboard to enable improved oversight of system pressures;
- Continue to promote the range of NHS services available to enable people to access the right care in the right place, first time; and
- Continue to develop and deliver the range of clinical services provided by community pharmacies to allow greater access to NHS services, all free at the point of need.
We are also assessing the broader measures we used last winter to respond to respiratory viruses and ensuring we learn lessons ahead of next winter where appropriate. These measures include surveillance, vaccination, key public health messages, guidance for key settings such as education, testing, anti-viral treatment and our communications strategy.
Though we have moved beyond the emergency response phase of the COVID-19 pandemic it’s important to note that the virus has not gone away. We continue to monitor case rates and other public health data so we are able to re-introduce any further protective measures if necessary. We are also planning for a possible surge of not only COVID-19 but other respiratory viruses including Influenza and RSV, which may peak at similar times. We will be working on modelling of possible scenarios for this winter and continue to use our surveillance systems to aid planning to reduce the additional pressure that is put on the health and social care system during these times.