More resilient NHS needed to cope with winter pressures in Wales – says National Assembly committee

Published 09/12/2016   |   Last Updated 09/12/2016

​A more resilient NHS all year round is the best way to cope with increased pressure on services during the winter, says a National Assembly committee.

The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee has been assessing how prepared Welsh hospitals, surgeries and clinics are as the temperature drops.

This year the Welsh Government has bolstered budgets with an extra £50 million just for the winter period.

The Committee was concerned that efforts around this time tend to be focused more on ‘firefighting’ than effecting whole-system change - change which might enable different service approaches to be taken to managing unscheduled care pressures.

Further evidence suggested that the main focus appeared to be on preparing health services for the winter, with more limited attention paid to social care. This, the Committee concluded, does not seem to adequately recognise the crucial role of the social care sector. This is both in terms of preventing hospital admissions over the winter period, particularly for older people, and in enabling those in hospital to move on at the appropriate point.

The Committee wants to see a greater focus on integrating health and social care sectors including their planning and delivery of services.

The low uptake of frontline staff having the flu vaccine was also highlighted as a concern as it is seen by the Committee as a key preventative measure in maintaining services. Members want the Welsh Government and health services to be more ambitious in setting targets and to examine the effectiveness of their publicity campaigns.

“It is clear from the evidence we heard that the many pressures facing the NHS in Wales are not restricted to a particular period or season but are, in fact, all year round,” said Dai Lloyd AM, Chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.

“Nevertheless, it is also clear that there are seasonal spikes in demand, especially during the winter months, which put an already stretched system under further strain.

“As a consequence, planning for this period is essentially about trying to limit the effects of these spikes whilst continuing to deliver other core services, including elective activity.

“To that end we want to see, as a matter of great priority, a major focus on the integration of health and social care sectors, including the planning and delivery of services.

“We also see the low uptake of the flu vaccine among staff as an area of concern as they are key to maintaining services at high pressure times.

“We would like to see more ambitious targets set by the Welsh Government and health and social care sectors in this regard, as well as an assessment of their publicity campaigns to see how that element can be improved.”

The Committee makes nine recommendations in its report, including:

  • The Cabinet Secretary should, as a matter of priority, focus his attention on the greater integration of the health and social care sectors, including their planning and delivery of services;
  • The Cabinet Secretary should ensure that arrangements are in place to evaluate the effectiveness of all Welsh Government campaigns relating to winter health, and to publish the lessons learned quickly; and
  • The Cabinet Secretary should report back to us at the end of the next quarter with details of progress against targets for the additional £50 million investment by the Welsh Government in winter pressures for this year.

The report will now be considered by the Welsh Government.