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Respiratory infections to place the greatest stress on the NHS this winter

Respiratory infections are set to cause the most significant pressures this winter on NHS capacity, health leaders have warned

Respiratory infections are set to cause the most significant pressures this winter on NHS capacity, health leaders have warned.

In its winter plan released this week, NHS England has warned that people suffering from respiratory infections including COVID, flu, pneumonia and acute bronchitis could occupy up to 50% of NHS beds.

‘Winter comes hot on the heels of an extremely busy summer – and with the combined impact of flu, COVID and record NHS staff vacancies,’ said NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard. ‘In many ways, we are facing more than the threat of a ‘twindemic’ this year, so it is right that we prepare as much as possible.’

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Among a number of measures to alleviate this pressure, local areas will have hubs that will offer patients same day access to out-of- hospital care for respiratory infections.

Earlier this year Sandwell Paediatric Respiratory Hub in West Bromwich, provided face-to-face assessment with onward referrals to see children with infectious illnesses such as COVID and bronchiolitis. The success of this hub prompted the plan to roll them out into other local communities.

‘Whether it be new services to support people who have fallen at home, hubs to treat respiratory infections, or system control centres helping us to navigate pressures across the country, every one of these initiatives will make a real impact on the ground.’ Ms Pritchard said.

However the new winter plans have been met with concern, RCN Director for England, Patricia Marquis warned: ‘Boosting capacity and reducing pressure is vital, but without appropriate staffing, this winter plan will just pile more pressure on existing staff.'

‘Patient safety is being compromised by the failure to retain experienced staff. We need to see more than short term plans to get the NHS through yet another crisis.’

The plan also includes creating new data driven ‘war rooms’ in local areas led by clinicians and experts to manage demand and capacity across the country taking stock of all activity and performance for the first time.

Policy Director at the NHS Confederation, Layla McCay said ‘all of those things are going to be positive developments that will hopefully give us a better chance, but I don’t think there’s any two ways about it: it’s going to be a very difficult winter for the NHS.’