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NHS struggle to cope with winter will get worse before it gets better

Analysis by the Nuffield Trust has found that pressure on NHS services was so intense in December that one third of Trusts warned it was affecting patient care. Furthermore, Nigel Edwards, the Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust, warned that the situation could get worse in the next couple of months.

“The real pressures usually start to show as winter gets into full swing later this month,” he says. “But an early look at the OPEL data shows that winter is most certainly here and already tough across the NHS.”
Under new measurements introduced in 2016, Trusts are required to record their pressures using Operational Pressures Escalation Levels (OPELs).

At OPEL 3, local health and social care systems report ‘major pressures compromising patient flow’. OPEL 4 is reached when the pressure is so intense that organisations are “unable to deliver comprehensive care”.
Analysis of NHS England figures by the Nuffield Trust has revealed that between December 1 and 27, 50 out of 152 Trusts declared an OPEL 3 or 4.

In total, there were 201 incidents, 15 of which were OPEL 4. The worst day in this period was 13 December, with 19 OPEL 3 and four OPEL 4 cases.

In December 2015, before OPELs were introduced, there were 105 incidents of Trusts declaring ‘serious operational problems’, confirming fears that the NHS is facing a substantially greater struggle this year compared to last year.

However, Edwards pointed out that the purpose of the OPEL system is to flag up problems early, so if the system works as designed, there will be less OPEL 3s and 4s in January.

In November, the Health Select Committee predicted that the NHS would face “unprecedented” pressures this winter.
In response to complaints that funding shortfalls are putting both health and social care under pressure, the government promised a £900m social care funding increase, which was dismissed by NHS leaders as not enough.

An NHS England spokesperson says: “NHS tried-and-tested plans are currently managing the ongoing pressures of this winter,"