Nuffield Trust | December 2018 | Snowed under? Understanding the effects of winter on the NHS
A new explainer from the Nuffield Trust unpacks what winter means for the NHS, in terms of its impact on health, demand for services, and how the NHS responds.
- Even moderately cold weather (an average temperature of 5–8 degrees celsius) results in increased illness and higher death rates.
- Flu epidemics have a major impact when they occur, but there is significant variation from year to year in how many people and which groups are affected.
- Primary care deals with most of the increase in winter-related illness. Small changes in the ability of primary care teams to manage peaks in demand become amplified across the wider care system.
- The number of A&E attendances actually decreases in winter, but the proportion of people admitted increases.
- A higher proportion of patients with longer lengths of stay in winter means hospitals have less flexibility to manage demand.
- Given recent trends, we can expect the pressure on the NHS this winter to be similar to last year.
- Although A&E waiting times tend to grab the headlines, health systems should consider a broader range of factors when assessing winter pressures, from deaths related to cold temperatures and provision of services in the community through to the way acute medical patients are managed in hospital. (Source: Nuffield Trust)