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Beating the effects of winter pressures

Patient having blood pressure taken

Our first winter pressures briefing, published in 2013, examined the public health and systemic pressures that hamper the NHS's performance in winter.

Four years on, those pressures have intensified. The need for an appropriate long-term response, with investment to match, is even greater, as indicated in our updated briefing.

We are now analysing data on a monthly basis. Our new briefing, NHS Pressures, covers data from November to March and shows that the pressures on the NHS are greater than ever, with delayed transfers of care, A&E waits and delays to admission still high as we entered spring. 

Winter pressures

Winter pressures are caused by the interplay between seasonal increases in morbidity and structural problems within the healthcare system.

The cold weather mainly affects:

  • the health of older people
  • the very young
  • the chronically ill

This, combined with the dangers associated with snow and ice and the sheer scale of the annual influenza vaccination campaign, leads to increased pressures on the health service during the winter season.

While there will always be winter pressures, it is possible to create a health system that is sufficiently robust to react to the inevitable but variable additional demands placed on services during winter.

However, there is no quick fix solution to the current crisis in healthcare provision. Longer term investments need to be made to adequately tackle the problems. The financial challenges facing the NHS must not detract from these.

The complete solution is even broader. In order to truly manage winter pressures, we will need to tackle wider public health issues, such as keeping our older and vulnerable population warm in winter, keeping them well fed, keeping them mobile, and ensuring timely access to adequate social and community care.

Read the 2013 briefing

Read the 2016/17 NHS Pressures data analysis


  • Media coverage

    Since the start of 2017, there has been widespread media coverage surrounding the unusually severe pressure on NHS hospital and GP services, what has caused this ‘crisis’ and what can be done to alleviate the strain on health and social care services.

    Read more