The NHS will set up 24/7 ‘war rooms’ at ICB level to prepare systems for a ‘very challenging winter’, new plans have revealed.
Updates to NHS England’s winter resilience plans state that local systems must establish 24/7, 365 ‘System Control Centres (SCCs)’ to manage capacity across England, and ‘disperse risk’ across their footprint.
Led by senior clinicians and operational leaders, the data-driven hubs will need to constantly track beds and attendances, taking stock of all activity and performance for the first time.
This will allow for quicker decision-making in response to any emerging challenges this winter, including instances where hospitals would benefit from mutual aid or to divert ambulances to nearby hospitals with greater capacity.
NHSE said these SCCs should sit at ICB level to ‘lead and facilitate collaboration through senior system-level operational leadership’, however it acknowledged some systems may prefer to delegate these to sub-ICS level depending on patient flows.
It expects each ICB to have an operating SCC by 1 December this year.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, warned that the NHS is entering the winter period ‘hot on the heels of an extremely busy’ summer.
She said: ‘Whether it be new services to support people who have fallen at home, hubs to treat respiratory infections, or system control centres helping us to navigate pressures across the entire country, every one of these initiatives will make a real impact on the ground – helping to relieve pressure on frontline staff as well as seeing patients quickly and directing them to where they can receive the best possible care.’
ICSs will also need to set up rapid-response community-based falls services, operating from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week at a minimum. These should be set up by 31 December.
This would see local teams sent to help people at their home, freeing up around 55,000 ambulance trips to treat other patients, NHSE suggested.
Systems have also been told to consider developing Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) hubs dedicated to treating serious respiratory infections, with modelling suggesting covid, flu, pneumonia and acute bronchitis cases could occupy up to half of all NHS beds this winter.
NHSE has also suggested offering targeted support for high frequency users who have a high probability of emergency admission. NHS leads also said they will roll out 24/7 access to professional mental health advice in ambulances services over winter.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said: ‘This winter could be the toughest on record for the NHS, which is exactly why services are working together early on to make sure patients get the care they need, where they need it most.
‘With falls leading to thousands of ambulance call-outs and admissions to A&E, it is vital that the NHS uses its limited resources to best effect as this will provide value for money to taxpayers and improve patient experience.’
It comes as the NHS waiting list last week hit an all-time high of seven million patients.
And last month, ICBs were tasked with identifying where to allocate potential winter support funding to GP practices and PCNs in their area, if such funding were to materialise.