Hot on the heels of the closure of Honiton and Seaton community hospitals comes this from the head of the NHS:
“… The southern hemisphere has just experienced its worst flu season in many years, and previous experience suggests Britain may be hit by the same H3 strain this winter.
The World Health Organisation is now reviewing the efficacy of the flu vaccine used in Australia and New Zealand to prepare for the last winter, Stevens said. The NHS’s own annual campaign is due to start within weeks, using a vaccine ordered months ago. Questions may now be raised about whether it will prove effective if the same H3 strain arrives in Britain.
Putting the NHS on high alert, Stevens told bosses to do everything they could to ensure that the health service is was as well-prepared as possible to deal with a potential spike in people falling ill, including reducing hospital overcrowding so that flu victims can be admitted.
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“For the next three, four, five months the top priority for every leader, every part of the NHS, is ensuring that the NHS goes into winter in a 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. 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,” Stevens said.
He said he was reviewing the Australia and New Zealand experience, where hospitals had closed to new patients and reported very long waiting times.
“The evidence is we are likely to have a more pressurised flu season this year,” he said.
NHS England has already committed to freeing up between 2,000 and 3,000 extra beds to help avoid a repeat of last year’s struggles, which led the British Red Cross to describe the chaotic state of hospitals as a humanitarian crisis, by clearing out “delayed discharge” patients who are medically fit to go home but cannot safely be discharged, often because a social care package has not been put in place for them.
Stevens said, however, that the NHS’s ability to meet that pledge, which will assume extra urgency in light of the fears about flu, was out of its hands and down to action taken by local councils, which have been given £1bn more this year to improve social care. It is unclear how many beds have been freed up so far. …”