8 April 2014

NHS Alliance Response to Inquiry into Winter Pressures

The NHS Alliance has submitted its response to the Primary Care and Public Health All Party Parliamentary Group’s inquiry into winter pressures on health services.

The response includes evidence from a range of people working in different sectors across the country, as well as a number of key points and recommendations for the future of winter pressures, including:

  • There is no such thing as ‘winter pressures’ and we need to get rid of this myth. The problem lies in the fact that ”winter pressures” services are only funded from December to March. Successful “winter pressures” schemes should be recurrently funded – 365 days of the year; the problem is all year around and the solutions need to be permanent and built into existing structures.
  • We need to better understand what drives people to use urgent care services the way they do – and what needs to happen so that people and families keep well and can manage their health issues. The work Alliance members are engaged with shows that there is a mismatch between what people say matters, and what those planning and delivering health services believe needs to be done. This lack of in depth insight into what matters is leading the NHS to perpetuate dependency on a medically led model, rather than build resilience, empowerment and community led solutions that recognise a social model of health and care.
  • We need to give GPs a means of remedying the problem of their patients’ housing circumstances where they have evidence that fuel poverty or cold, damp homes are exacerbating their health problems.
  • We need to use community pharmacy more – throughout the whole year – to support general practice and A&E services, commissioning them to deliver services such as flu vaccinations. A number of minor projects were commissioned within community pharmacy to support winter pressure initiatives last year, but they were all too late, too small and poorly publicised to make any difference at all. Only a fraction of community pharmacies have NHS Choices touch screens, a small percentage have minor ailment schemes and most of those have limited supply of medicines and very poor connection with general practice. And none have any supportive technology. This needs to change.

Read the full submission here.

Rick Stern, chief executive, NHS Alliance said: “It is a statement of the obvious that temperature tends to drop in winter and creates additional hazards for the old and vulnerable.  Yet each year the NHS treats this predictable cycle as a surprise, reacting to ‘winter pressures’ rather than planning to ensure that services that will make a difference are in place. New services have too little time to get going and are often scrapped before they have made an impact.  Rather than short-term funding we need a sustainable view of how we can improve care across the system.  Hastily developed projects give a sense of urgency but are unlikely to make a difference to the people who most need our support and tend to frustrate front line staff.

“In contrast, working with partners across health, social care, housing and the wider community, throughout the year, can lead to innovative solutions.”

Merron Simpson, Special Housing Advisor, said: “In England, around 7 million people are affected by fuel poverty and we know that living at low temperatures is associated with respiratory, cardiovascular and other health problems. There are ways of keeping people warmer at home which can reduce pressure on health services and excess winter deaths, but the solutions are not usually at the disposal of doctors and community health providers. This is an example of where closer working between health, housing and community-based organisations, focused on the needs of individuals, could save both lives and money.“

Two oral evidence sessions are taking place on 1 and 2 April.


NHS Alliance is the leading independent voice for primary care, bringing together patients, frontline staff, providers and commissioners bound by the common values of the NHS. Its core purpose is to work collaboratively to improve health care within a sustainable NHS, facilitating new and better ways of delivering services through its networks and campaigns. It welcomes patient-focused organisations and individuals of all disciplines, representing them to government and its agencies to influence policy in the interests of all its members.

For further information please contact anouska.cope@salixconsulting.com, 020 8675 4779 / 07725 555030 (24/7)