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NHS winter crisis plans: more beds and hubs, but no extra nurses

Without a plan to address staffing crisis, ‘winter resilience’ measures will only increase pressures, experts warn, as NHS England reveals its war room control centres plan

Without a plan to address staffing crisis, ‘winter resilience’ measures will only increase pressures, experts warn, as NHS England reveals its war room control centres plan

A lack of planning to address nursing shortages, as the NHS sets up ‘war rooms’ to face what could be one of its toughest winters, is a ‘recipe for catastrophe’, a nursing workforce expert has said.

In a letter to health bosses this week, NHS England (NHSE) set out its winter resilience plans, including new 24/7 control centres, dubbed war rooms. Run by ‘clinicians and experts’, they will manage demand and capacity, overseeing more hospital bed spaces, more 111 and 999 call handlers and local respiratory infection hubs intended to offer patients same-day out-of-hospital care for COVID-19 and flu.

Without a plan to address staffing crisis, ‘winter resilience’ measures will only increase pressures, experts warn, as NHS England reveals its war room control centres plan

Picture of ambulances lined up outside A&E in the snow; no staff in sight
Picture: Neil O’Connor

A lack of planning to address nursing shortages, as the NHS sets up ‘war rooms’ to face what could be one of its toughest winters, is a ‘recipe for catastrophe’, a nursing workforce expert has said.

In a letter to health bosses this week, NHS England (NHSE) set out its winter resilience plans, including new 24/7 control centres, dubbed war rooms. Run by ‘clinicians and experts’, they will manage demand and capacity, overseeing more hospital bed spaces, more 111 and 999 call handlers and local respiratory infection hubs intended to offer patients same-day out-of-hospital care for COVID-19 and flu.

Winter plan – increasing capacity without increasing nursing staff

The plans have been criticised for failing to address the shortage of nurses and other healthcare professionals in the NHS. London South Bank University chair of healthcare and workforce modelling Alison Leary labelled the plans a ‘recipe for catastrophe’.

‘The creation of more and more services and responses without the additional staff is a risky approach,’ Professor Leary told Nursing Standard. 'Increasing capacity without increasing staffing, in either numbers or skill mix, leaves patients open to receiving inadequate care.’

The RCN echoed these concerns, with director for England Patricia Marquis adding that without appropriate staffing the plans would ‘pile more pressure on existing staff’.

‘The UK government must act to tackle the endless cycle of increased workloads and falling pay, which is pushing staff out of the profession and increasing the risks to patients,’ she said. ‘We need to see more than short-term plans to get the NHS through yet another crisis.’

Call for ‘major action’ and better pay to tackle workforce shortages

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said the government must handle the workforce crisis, including through fairer pay, if there is to be any chance of tackling winter pressures.

Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: ‘The NHS no longer has the staff it needs to treat patients on time, and nothing in this plan addresses the lack of doctors and nurses.’

Nurse shortages hit a record high this year, with official figures showing there were almost 47,000 vacancies in England at the end of June. Nurses and unions have warned the strain of such high vacancies is leaving the workforce burnt out, with many nurses quitting the profession for better paid jobs in shops and bars.

NHS Providers interim chief executive Saffron Cordery also called for ‘major action’ to tackle workforce shortages and prevent the NHS from being ‘thrown off course’ in the winter.

The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England have been contacted for comment.


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