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NHS joins forces to tackle winter challenges in coming months

NHS teams across the North East and North Cumbria are joining forces with local councils, healthcare providers and community and voluntary services to help tackle the increasing need for health and care services this winter.

By working closely together throughout the health and care system in the region a range of initiatives have been put in place, to tackle what is set to be one of the most challenging winter periods for many years, to ensure those people who are needing help are cared for. 

Dr Neil O'Brien, executive medical director of the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board said: "Everyone knows about the pressures health and care services are under, so it's vital we work together to take action to address the challenges we are facing this winter.

"As a system we have prioritised three key actions for this winter to help make a difference. We're continuing to focus resources and work with partners on enhanced clinical triage of 111 and 999 calls so we can direct patients to the right care. Evidence shows this can make the most impact, as well as linking to rapid community services to help and provide support to patients in their own homes.

"We are improving access to GP services with more evening and weekend appointments and supporting treatment of minor illnesses at pharmacies. We are also taking action to improve hospital discharge of patients to ensure they receive the care they need at the right place at the right time."

GP practices are improving access to their services with extra evening and weekend appointments being made available, some areas have already increased the number of appointments by 30% since the autumn. Recent changes in Newcastle and Gateshead have seen the area's 56 practices offer more than 1,000 extra appointments outside normal working hours every week.

A range of programmes are also in place to encourage the public to use alternative services such as their local pharmacy who can often help with many minor ailments and illnesses, providing quicker and often more convenient treatments for patients.

To help co-ordinate activity over the winter an enhanced virtual data control centre is in place across the North East and North Cumbria which will further boost the region's ability to respond to operational issues. This is a dedicated virtual 24/7 system where teams, including senior clinicians, can track data in real time to help them make quick decisions in the face of emerging challenges. Data will be used to see where hospitals can benefit from mutual aid, or if ambulances can be diverted to another nearby hospital with more beds – as well as capacity in social care and primary care.

A two-hour urgent community response scheme is also supporting response activity by providing urgent care to people in their homes if someone's health and wellbeing suddenly deteriorates. This helps avoid unnecessary hospital admissions and enable people to recover in their own home or place of residence, as well as supporting people's independence.

More than £9m has been invested to increase the number of beds both inside and outside of hospitals and to support people to be discharged and supported in their own home. Further investment has also been made to increase transportation capacity of patients to help support hospital discharge.

Additionally, by using technology more patients will now be able to be cared for in their own homes through the expansion of 'virtual ward' initiatives - benefitting the most frail and elderly patients and those with respiratory problems. By using monitoring equipment clinical teams can check on a patient's condition whilst they are in the comfort of their own homes and take appropriate action if, and when it's required.

Community mental health services in the region have also been expanded with a further £620,000 being invested to help people's needs from escalating to the point of crisis or admission.

Dr O'Brien also said: "Our region wide winter vaccinations programme is also well underway to get those people who are eligible vaccinated against flu and Covid-19. We know this is the best way to protect both our communities and our staff from becoming seriously ill and help reduce the pressure on health and care services this winter. We really do need those who have not had theirs yet to come forward in the next few weeks and get protected."

"The public can also help us this winter by thinking about what NHS service can help you best – please think pharmacist, GP, 111 online or phone before heading to A&E or calling an ambulance. This will really help reduce pressure on our NHS staff and help you get the right help that you need. Stocking up your medicine cabinet and ordering repeat prescriptions in good time especially ahead of the festive season all helps too."

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