Government to meet health experts to prepare NHS for winter

The Downing Street session will see NHS leaders come together to discuss actions to improve care for patients and ease pressures on the health service

  • Health and Social Care Secretary will host a roundtable with the Prime Minister and clinical leaders to discuss ways to mitigate winter pressures, improve performance and drive forward planning to ease pressures on the NHS this winter
  • The Winter Roundtable will focus on ensuring those who most need help and support will get the care they need this winter
  • It will identify ways of speeding up work to cut waiting lists and deliver better care for patients and builds on two previous NHS recovery summits

The Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, will today host a round table with the Prime Minister, clinical leaders and health experts to drive forward planning to ease pressures on the NHS this winter.

The Downing Street session will see NHS leaders come together to discuss actions to improve care for patients and increase access to urgent and emergency care and elective recovery services.

It will also be used as a forum to discuss the best ways to mitigate pressure on the health and care system this winter and speed up long term recovery plans – including cutting waiting lists, one of the government’s top five priorities.

It will be attended by NHS England Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard, National Medical Director, Stephen Powis, National Clinical Director for Urgent and Emergency Care, Julian Redhead and Chief Nursing Officer, Ruth May. Chairs of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health will also be in attendance, as will representatives of community health services in England.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

"This year we started planning for winter earlier than before. We invested in more beds, ambulances and discharge lounges through our Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, and we’re freeing up 15 million GP appointments through our Primary Care Recovery Plan.

"To drive forward that progress, today we’re bringing together the best minds in healthcare who all have one shared aim – protecting patients and making sure they get the care they need this winter."

Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay said:

"Winter is always an extremely busy period and we’re working across the NHS to make services more resilient, ensuring those who most need help and support will get the care they need.

"I’m working closely with NHS and social care leaders to provide additional hospital capacity, protect emergency care and harness the full potential of technology to deliver the best possible service and intensify our efforts to tackle waiting lists."

Preparations for winter are well underway. To protect the most vulnerable and reduce pressure on the health service, eligible people can receive flu and Covid vaccines. Residents of older adult care homes and people who are housebound started to receive vaccines this week, and those over 65 or those who work in health settings will be able to book an appointment from 18 September through the NHS website, NHS app or by calling 119.

The government has also provided £250 million to NHS hospitals to increase capacity as part of the urgent and emergency care recovery plan. This will create 900 beds in hospitals to treat patients more quickly and will help increase capacity and improve performance, as part of our drive to put in place 5,000 permanent additional beds by winter.

Minister for Health and Social Care, Helen Whately said:

"Winter is the toughest time of year for our health system and we’re determined to make the best possible preparations. We’ve already done a lot, but today we’re bringing together leaders from across the NHS and social care to go even further.

"Whether in hospitals, care homes or people’s own homes, we want people to get the care they need, when they need it. That means cutting waiting lists, boosting emergency and urgent care, and joining up health and social care like never before."

The NHS recently announced its world-leading virtual ward programme would be expanding to children, with overall virtual ward bed numbers expected to hit 10,000 by the autumn.

This capital funding is on top of the existing investment as part of the urgent and emergency care recovery plan, with £1 billion of dedicated funding to support capacity in urgent and emergency services, building on the £500 million used last winter.

The government has also invested £200 million into ambulance services to increase the number of ambulance hours on the road, as well as a further £1.6 billion of funding for social care to reduce the numbers of beds occupied by patients. This is already helping to support the timely and safe discharge of those who are medically fit from hospital and into community care settings, such as social care, by reducing hospital delays and freeing up beds to help relieve pressures on the NHS.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, NHS national Director of Urgent and Emergency Care, said:

"The forthcoming winter will be another challenging one for health and social care, which is why teams across the NHS have been planning for this busy period since the start of summer, including getting more ambulances on the road and putting more hospital and virtual ward beds in place as part of our Urgent and Emergency Care recovery Plan.

"Thanks to the actions taken, waiting times for ambulances and A&E services are lower compared to last year and the public can play their part over winter by accessing services in line with their needs – using primary care, pharmacy and 111 online or 999 in an emergency."

The roundtable follows on from the Prime Minister’s NHS Recovery Forum held in Downing Street on 7 January and the NHS Recovery Summit on 6 June hosted by the Health and Social Care Secretary to drive forward plans to improve access to urgent and emergency care, planned treatment and social care.

A range of measures such as the expansion of virtual wards, greater use of community pharmacy to ease pressures on general practice and more choice over elective care for patients have all been introduced.

Waiting times have substantially reduced from the peak of winter pressures in December, and since then the NHS has published the Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, the Primary Care Recovery Plan and the first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to help put the NHS on a sustainable footing.

Department of Health and Social Care
The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP