£35million “war chest” to prepare NHS for winter

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Winter always puts additional pressure on health services and yesterday the Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) outlined to AMs how the Welsh Government will support the NHS through the 2018-19 winter.

Unprecedented pressure

Last winter was a tough one for the Welsh NHS with lengthy spells of snow, increased hospital admissions of older people and the highest rate of flu cases since a 2009 pandemic. In learning from what happened last year, the Health Secretary hoped a targeted approach will lead to better management of surges in demand.

“While we recognise that pressures on the health and care system are a year-round reality, planning for winter remains a significant priority for our health and care system and national agencies. Preparations for this winter have been taking place throughout Wales and across organisational boundaries since last winter.”
– Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething

A £35million package will help the NHS do this. £20million has already been committed and provided to the NHS and social care bodies earlier in the year than usual; £5million has been provided to critical care units and an additional £10million to support social services. Capacity at A&E departments will be increased and there will also be pilot schemes for ambulance demand and out-of-hours GPs.

The annual flu vaccination drive also started in October.

Money doesn’t mean capacity

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) wanted to know if the money will actually lead to increased bed availability and access to GPs? The Secretary said staffing was a bigger issue than beds.

Andrew then warned of possible shortages of flu vaccine in north Wales – to which the Health Secretary pointed to short-term supply problems amongst manufacturers which have since been resolved.

“I welcome the £20 million package. Could you tell us, please, whether this is new funding for the health budget or whether this is funding that’s been moved from another priority to this priority, and, in which case, where that funding has been moved from? I realise and appreciate how very tight the budget is and I am, as I’ve said, welcoming that additional resource, but it is important for us to understand where other pressures may arise if that funding has been moved.”
– Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)

The Health Secretary confirmed this was one-off spending.

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) asked for assurances that reductions in the number of beds – which were temporarily used as surge capacity last year – won’t affect patients this year. He also warned that community-based services like district nurses were struggling with their workloads.

The Secretary was willing to publish the detailed analyses individual health boards have made on bed capacity in some form. He said the Welsh Government were looking to increase the number of district nurses.

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