A winter action plan by Wigan health authorities will be severely put to the test this month, a survey of medics has suggested.
A recent poll of doctors by the British Medical Association (BMA) found that 78 per cent believe the pressure on the health service means it is struggling more now than ever.
Frontline staff are working flat-out but the system can’t cope with the number of patients needing to move through acute care, as the entire system is congested.Dr Mark Porter
And health trusts across the country are now bracing themselves for the busy winter period often triggered by outbreaks of flu and cold spells.
The festive break also places hospitals under more pressure as community services to support the disabled and elderly may be run with fewer staff.
In Wigan borough, joint health authorities have adopted a winter resilience plan to ease hospital pressures, reduce bed-blocking and cut down on unnecessary ambulance call-outs.
This follows on from staff at the town’s A&E department issuing several pleas in recent months to residents not to visit except in the event of a serious or life-threatening emergency. In the new BMA poll, medics said previous winters had already seen them with unmanageable workloads, including in GP surgeries.
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the BMA’s council, said: “These figures are cause for serious concern as, while there is an ever-increasing demand for health services across the NHS, this is hugely exacerbated during the winter months. Demand is now so great that hospitals are experiencing a year-round crisis, with a lack of available beds preventing the system from coping with a seasonal spike in demand.
“Frontline staff are working flat-out but the system can’t cope with the number of patients needing to move through acute care, as the entire system is congested.
“It is vital that there is sufficient capacity across the entire health and social care system, including in accident and emergency departments, general practice and social and community care.
“Doctors are particularly concerned that a lack of investment and resource in social care is increasingly impacting on the provision of healthcare, especially in winter.”
Dr Tim Dalton, chair of the borough’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has urged residents to make “smart choices” when using the borough’s range of health facilities to help alleviate the winter strain.
He said of the borough’s action plan: “We all know that winter is the hardest time for health and social care services because it makes people more vulnerable to illnesses and to injuries from falls.
“We are committed to ensuring that all patients get access to high quality, safe care throughout the challenging winter months.
“Please do all this to look after yourself, and then help us more by making smart choices about the services you choose.
“By using a pharmacy for all minor illnesses, you help keep a GP appointment free. That appointment can then be given to someone else with a more urgent need. And, please, don’t call an ambulance or go to A&E unless you have a serious or life-threatening illness or injury.
“With your help, we can all get through winter well.”