NHS winter pressures are avoidable, says research from The King's Fund

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Winter pressures on NHS hospitals can be avoided by taking better care of older people with chronic respiratory illnesses, says a study published today by The King's Fund.

Managing the Pressure: Emergency hospital admissions 1997-2001, by Michael Damiani and Jennifer Dixon, shows that the only category of emergency admission to show any real seasonal variation is respiratory disease*. The majority of cases that result in long hospital stays are amongst people over 55, most of whom have chronic illnesses. For people aged over 85, the average length of stay in hospital is more than two weeks.

The study concludes that better disease management may have prevented some of these hospital admissions or reduced the patients' length of stay.

The King's Fund chief executive Rabbi Julia Neuberger said:

'People who are at high risk of being admitted to hospital in cold weather can quite easily be identified by health professionals. They should be targeted for flu vaccinations and get regular health checks from their GPs as part of a package of care aimed at improving their health and preventing avoidable hospital stays.

'The outlook is not all gloomy. The creation of NHS Direct and walk-in centres should help to improve access to health care during the winter. Closer cooperation between health and social services, especially in winter planning, is beginning to bear fruit in some areas.'

Rabbi Julia Neuberger continued: 'But we also need to see extra resources for primary care and social services: not just one-off winter pressures payments but sustained investment over many years. GPs, practice nurses and care workers cannot simply take on more responsibilities without the resources to meet them properly. In the case of social services, the scale of extra resources should be in the region of at least £700 million a year.'

Read the report: Managing the Pressure: Emergency hospital admissions in London 1997-2001

Notes to editors

* The daily number of emergency hospital admissions for respiratory disorders was 320 in December 1999, compared with 110 in August 1999.

Last year, The King's Fund warned of an impending crisis in care services without at least an extra £700 million a year investment to help it keep pace with rises in NHS spending. To date, the Government has pledged an extra £300 million over the next two years to social services departments to tackle 'delayed discharge' from hospitals.

Managing the Pressure by Michael Damiani and Jennifer Dixon, is available from The King's Fund bookshop on 020 7307 2591, price £5.99.

The study was part-funded by the London Region of the NHS Executive. It is based on figures in the Department of Health's Hospital Episode Statistics for London from April 1997 to March 2001.

For a copy of the study, or interviews with King's Fund staff, please contact Daniel Reynolds on 020 7307 2581.