Health chiefs in Sheffield are set to pump millions of pounds into fending off a winter crisis in the city.
More than £3.7 million has been given to the NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group to take on extra staff, including hospital nurses and pharmacists, in the weeks to come, as well as to put in place further measures to stop A&E services grinding to a halt in cold weather.
The focus in particular will be on social care – keeping the number of ‘bed blockers’ as low as possible by making sure patients leave hospital as soon as they are ready to be discharged. The CCG is working with the council to provide extra staff in the out-of-hours assessment service, and home care teams will also be bolstered. Additional workers will be taken on in radiology and pharmacy – two areas considered ‘pinch points’ during busy periods.
Dr Zak McMurray, the CCG’s medical director, said the city is ‘as prepared as it can be’ for winter. NHS England has allocated £3.77m specifically to ensure that Sheffield can manage demand during times of pressure. Health leaders around the country have been encouraged to plan further ahead for winter this year.
Last year Sheffield’s casualty services experienced unprecedented demand. More than 4,000 people visited A&E at the Northern General Hospital in December 2014, and the Red Cross charity was called in for the first time to provide ambulances and teams to transport patients.
Delayed transfers of care – commonly known as ‘bed blocking’, where patients are fit to leave hospital but cannot do so because of problems arranging social care – have also been an issue in recent years. In January 2014 Sheffield had the second-highest rate in the country.
Dr McMurray said: “One of the major areas of investment this winter is in social care to ensure the whole system flows smoothly and that we are flexible to respond to peaks in demand. We are working with the council to provide extra staff in the out-of-hours assessment service to ensure patients can access the right support at the right time, and avoid going to hospital when they don’t need to be there.
“The rapid response and resilient home care team will also have more staff giving home care support. The rapid response enablement service will also have additional staff to enable patients to go home from hospital without delay.”
Additional investment has been made to support mental health services, recruit extra staff at Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust and help patients with dementia. Plans have been informed by last winter, and close attention will be paid to weekends and holiday periods, Dr McMurray said.
He emphasised that a partnership of all the major health and social care organisations in the city are involved in overseeing services in winter. Dr McMurray said residents should also ‘help us by helping themselves’, by having the flu vaccination if eligible, keeping houses warm and looking after the vulnerable and elderly.