Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) must ‘actively support’ PCNs working with other providers to prepare for winter pressures, NHS England has said.
In a letter sent to ICB chairs, NHS England set out its core aims for the season to increase capacity and relieve pressure on the health service, including scaling up additional roles in primary care and preparation for Covid-19 variants and vaccinations.
It said that ICBs will be expected to ‘actively support and engage with PCNs to work with each other and other providers’ to develop ‘collaborative models’ to manage seasonal preparedness and specific winter pressures, including oximetry monitoring for Covid-19 patients.
NHS England also said that each ICB will be provided with a unique Board Assurance Framework to monitor progress monthly, and will be tailored to meet ICSs’ specific capacity gaps.
It said the plan – agreed with NHS regions and each ICB – will make ‘the most of the opportunity created’ by the formation of ICBs to ‘maximise the benefits of system working’.
Other key actions set out to increase capacity and build resilience include:
- Delivering an integrated Covid-19 booster and flu vaccination programme to
minimise hospital admissions from both viruses
- Opening around 7,000 additional general and acute beds to match the additional capacity identified by ICSs
- Implementing recruitment and retention plans including staff sharing and bank arrangements and developing roles for volunteers that reduce pressure on services.
In a now deleted document accompanying the letter, NHS England also said that by December ICBs must resource a ‘dedicated primary care team’ to support general practices and community pharmacies with seasonal preparedness.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director said: ‘Winter is always a busy period for the NHS, and this is the first winter where we are likely to see combined pressures from Covid and flu, so it is right that we prepare as early as we can for the additional demand that we know we will face.’
He added: ‘Ahead of the winter, we want to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to free up capacity so that staff can ensure patients get the care they need – this includes timely discharge, working with social care, and better support in the community with the expansion of virtual wards.’
This comes after data revealed the number of people waiting to start NHS treatment has grown to a record-breaking 6.7 million, with around 355,774 patients waiting more than 52 weeks.
And last week NHS leaders urged NHS England to take urgent action to address staff shortages in critical community health services to stop ‘storing up problems’ in primary care.