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RCP briefing for House of Lords oral question on ‘Challenges facing the NHS this winter’

The RCP has issued a briefing to peers in the House of Lords ahead of Baroness Merron’s oral question on the challenges facing the NHS this winter.

This summer was the busiest ever for ambulance staff dealing with the most serious callouts. According to NHS statistics, only 45% of patients were discharged when they were ready in August and an average of 13,388 beds a day were taken up by patients who no longer need to be there.

The targeted focus by hospital teams and clinicians working above and beyond normal hours to reduce waiting times for those who have been waiting the longest for treatment has shown some success: in July, there were 1,521,711 patients waiting for diagnostic tests - fewer than the same figures for May and June.

But with more than 6.8 million people waiting for treatment, this winter is set to be challenging for the NHS. 

With the price of energy rising this winter, many households will face one of their hardest winters ever. The briefing includes polling commissioned by the RCP on behalf of the Inequalities in Health Alliance (which found that over two thirds of people (69%) feel more worried about their ability to stay warm and healthy at home this winter compared to last winter). The cold can have a wide ranging and serious impact on health, including causing or worsening respiratory conditions and cardiovascular diseases to poor mental health and hypothermia. 

The possibility of flu and COVID waves, combined with people unable to properly eat or heat their homes, as well as the prospect of a rise in homelessness, could increase demand for healthcare as we head into winter.

The RCP is calling on the Government to: 

  • maintain the commitment to publishing the white paper with clear cross-government action to tackle the factors that cause ill health, including a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities
  • publish its workforce strategy in full by the end of 2022 as planned and include projections of future demand and supply.