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Written Statement - Unscheduled care winter pressures

Vaughan Gething, Deputy Minister for Health

I would like to thank our NHS, social services and social care staff throughout Wales who have worked tirelessly this winter to ensure people have received the treatment, care and support they needed when they have been ill or injured. I am grateful for their dedication to deliver high-quality care and services.

Winter is always a very busy time for our health and social services and this season, despite the milder weather, has been no different. However, in the first week of January 2016 the NHS has experienced a significant surge in demand for urgent and emergency care service above and beyond that experienced in the same period of 2015.

Thanks to the integrated winter planning process, which brings together health boards, local authorities and the Welsh Ambulance Service and has been in place for recent years, the NHS and social services have been able to manage the winter pressures experienced to date. Additional bed capacity has been opened when needed in our hospitals but, more importantly, there has been a focus on preventing unnecessary hospital admissions and early discharge planning.

Other actions taken to improve resilience this winter include, strengthening seven-day working; increasing consultant cover; extending working hours; additional support for out-of-hours services and care homes; improved use of social workers in hospitals and greater use of pharmacy support.

Over the Christmas period, urgent and emergency NHS services experienced surges in activity at times. But it has been in the first week of January – traditionally the busiest month – that services have experienced a significant increase in pressure, with more severe surges in demand following the festive period, especially for emergency ambulance calls; primary care out of hours consultations and attendances at emergency departments.

Management information indicates there has been an increase in emergency ambulance arrivals at A&E departments since the turn of the year, with a peak of 22% higher than the January 2015 average. This also indicates that A&E attendances have been up to 23% higher than the January 2015 average.

NHS Wales and social services have coped well with these surges in demand. Health boards are ensuring all available beds are used to care for the most poorly patients. There have been some delays at some hospitals but staff are working hard to maintain patient flow through the system.

The Intermediate Care Fund is helping frail and elderly people across Wales remain at home; preventing inappropriate admissions to hospital and supporting early discharge through various housing and social care initiatives. Additional Intermediate Care Fund funding will be allocated to continue this improvement through the winter period.

Following a period of significant pressure and demand, the situation is stabilising although large numbers of people continue to seek help at emergency departments. Our NHS is anticipating further surges in demand as winter progresses – this is normal at this time of the year and health boards will continue to implement their winter planning arrangements to manage these pressures.

The public can also help the NHS by choosing well and considering whether they need to go to A&E when they are injured or unwell or whether another local health service can help or if they could care for themselves with advice from NHS Direct Wales.

Our Choose Well campaign can help people decide where to go when they need help; what different NHS services do and when they should be used.

Choosing Well means people get the best treatment for their particular condition and allows busy NHS services to help the people who need them most.

NHS Direct Wales can be contacted on 0845 46 47.