Winter pressures: What's going on behind the scenes?

February 2016

Elizabeth Fisher
Holly Dorning
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Key points

  • Pressure normally seen during the winter months is now increasingly visible at other times of the year. The analysis also highlights that, in some areas, the NHS has been coping well with winter pressures. 
  • A&E attendances each year are increasing – 7% over the last 5 years. 
  • Although the trend in the number of people attending A&E units each year is increasing, fewer people attend during winter compared to the rest of the year. But of those who do attend there is a larger proportion of older people attending and a larger proportion of people requiring an emergency admission to hospital.
  • The pressure on primary and community services in winter is largely unquantifiable at a national level because of a lack of available data.

In this latest analysis from QualityWatch, a joint Nuffield Trust and OnlyWan research programme, we track performance across 29 different indicators over the past 5 years (from Spring 2010 to autumn 2015) to shine a light on the pressure hospital services experience in winter.

Starting in early December each year, so-called NHS ‘winter pressures’ make the headlines. Attention invariably tends to be focused solely on the performance of A&E units. We examine whether the relentless focus on the four-hour A&E target for hospitals gives the full picture of pressures on NHS trusts. 

    QualityWatch is a major research programme from the Nuffield Trust and the OnlyWan that provides independent scrutiny into how the quality of health and social care is changing over time.

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