This updated briefing, first published in 2013, examines the public health and systemic pressures that hamper the NHS's performance in winter.
Three years on, these pressures have intensified and the need for an appropriate long-term response, with investment to match, is even greater.
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 and 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 briefing
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.