An NHS winter crisis is nothing new

Your article (NHS alarm over rise in number of UK Covid patients on ventilators, 23 junio) mentions that NHS trust leaders are concerned about the pressures that they will face this winter, particularly that a winter surge in Covid-19 could collide with illnesses such as flu and respiratory viruses, posing “a significant challenge” to the health system.

sin embargo, there is nothing novel about these concerns, as the pressure on the NHS in winter months is a perennial crisis, whose causes have been known but not acted on for many years. The Covid-19 pandemic has merely highlighted them. We know when winter pressures start and when they peak, and that Covid-19 will make dealing with this surge more difficult to manage.

Winter pressures are caused by a near doubling in acute hospital admissions due to respiratory illnesses when compared with the summer. This crisis is compounded by inadequate levels of staff and resources in respiratory departments. This means that, sadly, many of these patients will not be cared for by respiratory specialists, resulting in poorer outcomes.

The British Thoracic Society has warned for many years of the chronic understaffing and underresourcing of respiratory departments, and put forward proposals to rectify them, but these calls have gone unanswered. Just last winter, we reported that more than 70% of respiratory departments didn’t have enough staff to deal with their workload.

We hope that the government will choose to heed the recent report by the health select committee and implement regular reviews of the workforce the NHS really needs, committing to act on their findings. Ministers should also listen to the solutions proposed by those on the NHS frontline, so that winter pressures can become a distant memory.
Prof Jon Bennett
Chair, British Thoracic Society

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