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NHS ‘is facing winter crisis even worse than last year’

THE NHS is facing an even more difficult winter than last year amid growing demand and large-scale staff shortages, a report warns.

Last winter medics ‘made extraordinary efforts’ to maintain services but corridors overflowed with patients, with more kept waiting in ambulances outside A&E as the UK faced the worst flu strain in seven years.

But NHS Providers said that, based on national data and the views of trust leaders, the challenges will be more severe this winter. Its report cites a continued rise in demand for care, which has outstripped planning estimates. It said A&E performance has also been worse so far this year compared with 2017 because of greater pressure across mental health, community and ambulance services and higher levels of staff vacancies.

NHS Providers, which represents acute, ambulance, community and mental health services, said it welcomed improvements such as £145million extra for buildings and equipment and £240million extra funding for social care. It also said the flu season might be less severe this year.

But deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said: ‘Performance is in a worse position going into this winter than last.

‘Staff shortages are growing, putting additional strain on a workforce already overstretched during an exceptionally busy summer. Trusts fear that this coming winter will be more difficult than the last.’ Donna Kinnair, of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘Winter 2018 could be the one that brings services to a standstill. The signs in the report are ominous — increasing demand, worsening A&E performance and a yawning chasm in nurse numbers.’

The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘The NHS will benefit from a second year of better, enhanced, national level winter planning, as well as £420million to redevelop A&Es, improve emergency care and get patients home quicker.’