11th January 2016 Written by Anne Clarke

Image: Ambulance in the snow.

Winter brings extra pressures for the NHS, particularly in Accident and Emergency departments, Anne Clarke, Regional Director, at Skills for Health explains why it’s important to ensure healthcare staff are working efficiently, and how this moves outside of the hospital setting.

Winter pressures in the NHS arise every year but despite forward planning the service inevitably faces considerable challenges. NHS weekly figures released in December 2014 indicated that the number of people admitted to hospital once again climbed, topping 450,000 for the first time.

The numbers of people requiring hospital care are predominantly those with respiratory conditions or exacerbating conditions that are usually brought on by cold weather and viruses. The most affected tend to be older people and the vulnerable, who may have increased social care needs as much as a medical need.

Take a look at staff wellbeing

Looking after your own staff and ensuring that your team are happy and healthy is imperative. Staff are working long hours, which can take a toll on their own health and wellbeing. Many issues can arise due to staff illnesses leaving teams short staffed and having to work extra to cope. It’s about finding the right work balance for your team and working with them.

Planning ahead and looking at staff rosters to ensure workers are getting appropriate rests and breaks can help keep them healthy. Bad weather conditions can also prevent staff from arriving at the workplace and cause difficulties for travel, so plan ahead and set a contingency policy in place.

Do you have sufficient bank staff to help pick up shifts if others are unable to get to the hospital? Think: what can we do, who can we call? Hiring in extra staff from agencies can be costly, so working with your teams and seeing who could put in a little extra time should they be needed could make a great difference.

Post-care social integration

One thing we encourage healthcare providers to do is to be proactive in working in partnership with other organisations and to become more integrated within their local community. From a strategic view, creating better integration between the social care and health sectors would be a big step forward.

By working more efficiently in partnership with social care professionals, local GPs and primary care services, we can improve the flow of people entering and being discharged from hospital to prevent backlogs. Knowing that social care services are available to help take care of elderly patients once they return home, hospital staff can look to discharge patients sooner.

First instance prevention

Much can be done to help prevent injuries and accidents from happening in the first instance. Local agencies and volunteer groups working together within communities should look out for vulnerable people and help prevent accidents and injuries from occurring; whether this be by salting the icy steps outside someone’s house or clearing hazards from walkways.

We can also do more to help spot the early signs of illness and ensure that people are signposted to appropriate timely treatment. Community pharmacies and other primary care services contribute to helping people get the immediate care and information they need to help prevent their illness from worsening.

Ensuring the workforce is more effective in tackling winter pressures reaches wider than just the A&E unit; it’s about communities working together in collaboration to ensure efficiency. We know that winter comes every year so we must do all we can to plan ahead.

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