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Social care central to easing NHS pressure as flu looms large

Blog Post 16 October 2017

Following the worst outbreak of flu in Australia and New Zealand for years, the NHS is issuing a grim warning that it’s a pointer to what could happen in the UK.

And predictably, we are told it could put added pressure on GPS and hospitals.

Speaking at a health conference in Manchester, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens says measures are being taken to ensure the NHS is prepared.

The BBC reports – according to other reports – there has been close to double the amount of flu circulating in Australia during its winter months of July and August.

Describing the outbreak as a "heavy flu season", Mr Stevens adds many hospitals had struggled to cope.

Now the NHS is urging flu vaccination for the elderly and vulnerable.

Watching the news, it’s difficult not to detect a note of panic. GPs at breaking point – Jeremy Hunt admits they are (his words) knackered” – but adds, "this isn't something the Health Secretary solves for you"; social is care still waiting for a realistic Government financial rescue plan; and the embattled service providers pool is shrinking.

Mr Stevens tells us: “For the next three, four, five months, the top priority for every NHS leader, every part of the NHS, is ensuring that the NHS goes into winter in as strong a position as possible.

"We know we're going to have more hospital beds open, we know we are better prepared, but we also know that the pressures are going to be real.

"The signs from Australia and New Zealand, who are just coming out of their winter, are that it has been a heavy flu season and many of the hospitals down there have struggled to cope.

"We know that there is a great deal of work to be done over the next six to eight weeks with our partners in local authorities to put the NHS on the right footing for the winter ahead."

Whilst I understand there is need for such a rallying cry within the NHS, a critical ingredient as part of the solution is missing from this public dialogue . . . social care.

Mr Stevens’ warning comes after NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, suggested the encroaching winter NHS pressure could be the most difficult for a generation.

Collaboration in care is essential for both health and social care. STPs (sustainability and transformation plans) are there to bridge the gap between hospitals and home.

Flu jabs are an essential help to avoiding some of the chaos, that, let’s face it, happens every year with the NHS. Equally so is the recognition that social care needs to be a central pillar of the solution – something that Mr Hunt and Mr Stevens seem to be reticent to speak of in public.

Meanwhile, the West Midlands Care Association, the Care Alliance and many other social care provider representative bodies will continue to meet with health, social services and commissioners to help forge solutions TOGETHER.