In an update on NHS winter planning for 2018/19, NHS England director for national urgent and emergency care Pauline Philip said: 'We recognise that the coming months will be a challenge.’
She told a joint NHS England and NHS Improvement board meeting on Thursday that officials were 'particularly concerned' about demands that would be placed on staff, who have already faced ‘a very difficult year’ with extreme pressure on the health service last winter and consistently high temperatures through summer.
Plans set out at the meeting highlight the national rollout of GP extended hours services, the more effective adjuvanted flu vaccine for over-65s this winter, improvements to A&E services and national rollout of NHS 111 online among measures that could ease pressure.
At the start of the year, GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that the 2017/18 was the worst he had faced in three decades working in general practice, with a freeze on elective care for a month adding to already heavy workload in primary care. Last winter also saw the most severe flu season in seven years.
NHS England’s announced earlier this week that it will repeat its winter indemnity scheme this year, with £10m to support GPs taking on additional shifts in out-of-hours or unscheduled care. This year's scheme will also support GPs taking extra shifts in extended hours.
NHS leaders also outlined plans for 100% flu vaccine among NHS staff, with NHS England working with royal colleges and other professional bodies to ‘deliver a consistent message to staff that it is really important to get vaccinated’.
Earlier this month RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard urged all GPs to get the flu vaccination, highlighting 'clear evidence' that unvaccinated frontline healthcare staff are 'frequently asymptomatic carriers of the flu virus' and risk passing it on to vulnerable patients.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, told the meeting on Thursday: ‘We all recognise as professionals that we have a duty to protect patients. I would like to emphasise the critical importance of vaccination among staff this winter.’
NHS staff who opt out of receiving the jab must complete a ‘written declaration providing reasons’.