Winter preparations have been well underway since the publication of the NHS’s Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, with over 800 new ambulances set to be in place to deliver over a million more ambulance road hours as well as 5,000 more sustainable hospital beds and hundreds of new virtual ward beds each month.
This is in addition to last month’s announcement that the NHS’s world-leading virtual ward programme would be expanding to children, with overall virtual wards bed numbers expected to hit an ambition of 10,000 by the end of September.
At the monthly board meeting, the NHS also outlined how it is bracing for another winter facing the possibility of higher than usual levels of respiratory illness including COVID, flu and RSV. Australia, whose activity often predicts what the NHS in England is likely to see in winter, is experiencing one of the biggest flu seasons on record with children particularly affected, making up four in five of flu-related hospital admissions.
A key part of the plan is the use of Acute Respiratory Hubs – where patients can get urgent same-day face-to-face assessment for conditions like Covid, flu and RSV – and will be expanded to be available in every part of the country. Last winter, when first introduced, almost 730,000 patients used these services, helping to speed up access to care and advice while reducing wider system pressures.