NHS ‘winter war rooms’ launch across England to manage pressure on hospitals

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The move is aimed to help health services cope as they head into what is expected to be a difficult winter

More than 40 NHS “traffic control centres” have gone live across England in a bid to help manage pressure on hospitals this winter.

The “winter war rooms” use data including A&E performance, waiting times, staff levels, ambulance response times and bed occupancy to assess where demand is highest.

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Staff can then use this data to divert ambulances away from hospitals that are full to those which have more capacity, meaning patients have a better chance of being seen more quickly.

The idea is that the 42 centres, which were first announced as part of a wider winter plan in October, will be able to respond rapidly to challenges as they emerge, with the aim of helping the health service to run more effectively. The centres will run seven days a week and will be fully manned during daytime hours, with on call arrangements to be in place overnight.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “These locally delivered control centres are just one part of our wide-ranging preparations for winter but will play a vital role in the sharing and use of vital information to drive smarter decision-making by local NHS teams.

“From Maidstone to Lincoln, less than six weeks after we issued our national guidance, we have teams across England working around the clock monitoring and responding to information and insights from frontline services to help spread resources and make the best possible decisions for both staff and patients.

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More than 40 NHS “traffic control centres” have gone live across England (Photo: Getty Images)More than 40 NHS “traffic control centres” have gone live across England (Photo: Getty Images)
More than 40 NHS “traffic control centres” have gone live across England (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

“With recent data hitting home the significant pressure staff are facing – with 10 times the flu cases in hospital than we saw going into winter last year and thousands of beds taken up by patients medically fit for discharge – it has never been more important for the NHS to introduce these important and innovative planning measures ahead of what is likely to be one of our most challenging winters yet.

“The public can play its part by using NHS services in the usual way – dialling 999 in an emergency and using 111 online for other health conditions, and vaccines remain an important protection against serious illness so please come forward if you’re eligible.”

‘Urgent action needed’

NHS England has previously announced several other plans in recent weeks for services aimed at easing the pressure on hospitals.

An expansion of the falls response services will mean that more people can be treated in their own homes, thereby avoiding unnecessary trips to hospital where possible. Officials estimate this could free up around 55,000 ambulance trips each year.

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Other plans for winter include local “respiratory infections hubs” which is again aimed at minimising the number of unnecessary trips to hospital by offering patients same day out-of-hospital care for Covid, flu, acute bronchitis and pneumonia.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “New ‘control centres’ could help ease some of the pressure on urgent and emergency care services at this critical time. However, to work effectively, they should support collaboration by local health and care partners to tackle the multiple challenges of the coming weeks and months.

“Urgent action is also still needed to tackle workforce shortages, staff exhaustion and burnout, and the inability to free up capacity by discharging medically fit patients in a safe and timely way.”

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