Winter pressures aren’t just for Christmas – Dr Ian Reckless, Deputy CEO and Medical Director, Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Winter started early for the health and care system.
The season has always been a challenging time for the NHS, with winter illnesses and the effects of the cold on long term conditions increasing demand for services, but we know this year will be like no other.
Since September, record numbers of patients have been calling ambulances and coming to Emergency Departments across Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes, and demand for GPs, pharmacists and NHS111 has been rising as the number of COVID-19 cases in the community remains comparatively high across the region.
The number of contacts is unprecedented for the time of year and will inevitably increase. We have been working hard across the health and care system to predict demand and prepare our services accordingly. Managing healthcare in the presence of COVID-19 (in the community and in hospital) presents numerous challenges, and the recent emergence of the Omicron variant leads to additional concern.
The number one priority for every partner in our Integrated Care System (ICS) is the health of our residents. This means balancing the demand for urgent and emergency care with our elective patients, those who require planned care for conditions and will have waited longer than usual due to the suspension of some elective care across hospitals in the UK at the height of the pandemic.
No hospital is an island, and the whole of the ICS has its part to play to ensure we maintain this balance. We all need to ensure that local people receive the best care in the best possible setting, and the prospect of rearranging planned appointments is a last resort.
We have asked so much of the general public since the start of the pandemic and we must ask them again to play their part and follow some simple principles to not only help protect the NHS this winter but also protect the health of their fellow citizens.
I would urge everyone to:
1) Follow national requirements and guidance to stop the spread of the virus – wear masks in shops / enclosed public areas and continue to practise social distancing where feasible;
2) Get your vaccinations and boosters when eligible – vaccination against COVID remains the best way to protect yourself and others against serious illness;
3) Use the right NHS service at the right time – there is help available to local people at their GP surgery, local pharmacy, NHS111, mental health provider, local authority, urgent care centre and hospital. By using the right service at the right time, we can ensure everyone receives timely care in the right setting. For more information about accessing healthcare, visit the CCG website here.
Winter will be difficult for the NHS and we must continue to work together to do all that we can to maintain safe and effective services that can provide for all those who need it in even the most challenging times.
Please continue to follow updates from the ICS and local providers to understand the support that is available to you and what you can do to support your local health and care system this winter.