Pressures Facing the NHS: Winter and COVID-19

By Amber Smith

Safety of staff and patients alike is the priority; however, this has been compromised by hundreds of patients going to accident and emergency about health issues that do not need to be there to treated, on a daily basis, by medical and nursing staff.

Traditionally, the winter months are some of the busiest and most challenging times of the year for the NHS. However, A&E services have been under exceptional pressure throughout the summer months and the fear is that attendances will continue to rise throughout the winter period.

Gillian Duncan, Personal Assistant to the NHS Scotland’s chairmen said, “During week ending 17 January 2021 there were 15,787 attendances at A&E services in NHSScotland.  This compares to week ending 19 January 2020 when there were 25,428 attendances at A&E services in NHSScotland.

The redesign of urgent care for people to access the right care in the right place at the right time went live on 1st December 2020 and instead of direct access to A&E departments for non- life threatening conditions help is now firstly available through NHS 24 -111, available 24/7 for urgent care need – where conditions cannot wait to be seen at the GP practice.  More information is available at NHS Inform.”

Duncan said, “The number of COVID-19 cases in hospital (using the all COVID-19 positive patients’ definition) has now exceeded the position in April and May 2020, and hospitals have seen a sustained level of COVID-19 related occupancy as reported in the daily Scottish Government briefings.  However, the experience and planning undertaken since March of this year has assisted in ensuring the NHS is able to maintain and, as necessary, increase COVID-19 response capacity.”

According to the NHS Inform, when you prepare yourself for winter by stocking up on medications you may need, you are helping not only yourself and your loved ones but the NHS as a whole as well, over the holiday season, your GP practice and pharmacy opening hours are likely to be different from normal. It’s important to know this information so you can make sure you order and collect any repeat prescriptions you may need in plenty of time.

“The Scottish Government published the Winter Preparedness Plan for NHS Scotland which set out the key priorities for the NHS and how all Boards should work together to deploy collective resources in the most effective way. This Plan also prepared for the possibility that some resumed services may have to be paused again should there be the need to create more capacity to deal with the COVID-19 resurgence or manage other winter pressures. Therefore, there are contingencies in place to mitigate the risk from the increase in hospital cases of COVID-19.”

The aim is to get as many people as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible. This will help drive infections to the lowest level possible, particularly as a significantly more infectious and faster spreading strain has developed. The vaccine is not mandatory but NHS Scotland strongly recommends you get the vaccine when offered it. NHS Scotland will follow the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advice and vaccinate those most at risk first, and those who work closest with them, this will begin with older adults living in care homes are at greater risk because large groups of vulnerable people are living together, in surroundings where the virus can spread quickly and then frontline healthcare and social care workers as they may be exposed to infection.

Duncan stated, “As we move forward, the work for our COVID-19 vaccination programme is critical, to ensure we protect our communities and staff with the aim of a return to a more normal environment in time.  All Boards are working to remobilisation plans which described how they would safely resume activities that had been paused during the first wave of the pandemic whilst continuing to treat patients with COVID-19 and ensuring there is capacity to deal with any future surges in infection and the increases in activity normally experienced over the winter period.”

NHSGGC has a coronavirus section on its website which provides links to support services, for example, addictions, support for carers.  Also remember that although GP practices are operating differently, they are still there to deal with any issues that their patients may have. 

NHS24 on 111 is available for urgent concerns and to offer the best advice on what care is required and where is the best place to access this. This can include self-care and support at; local pharmacy who can prescribe treatments and offer advice. They may advise that the GP surgery is the best place to get care and to make an appointment there or if necessary, they will refer to the A&E clinical team.

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