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NHS England is introducing care ‘traffic control’ centres, which will work to bring together teams from across NHS, social care, housing, and voluntary services together to help make live decisions and offer patients everything they need in one place.

The centres, which aim to speed up discharge, are part of wide-ranging NHS plans to prepare for the busy winter period, alongside additional ambulance hours and extra beds.

The robust new measures will boost capacity and resilience across the NHS as well as build on the recent improvements in ambulance response times and A&E performance.

Winter preparations have been underway since the publication of the NHS’ Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, with over 800 new ambulances set to be in place to deliver over a million more ambulance road hours as well as 5,000 more sustainable hospital beds and hundreds of new virtual ward beds each month.

The NHS will also be announcing a new scheme to encourage local teams to “overachieve” on performance measures with financial incentives provided for these areas.

With more than 12,000 patients every day in hospital, despite being medically fit for discharge, a nationwide rollout of ‘care traffic control’ centres will provide one stop for staff to locate and coordinate the best and quickest discharge options for patients, either at home or into social or community care.

Around a quarter of local areas currently offer this service 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and this is set to expand to every area of the country by winter.

Drawing information from electronic patient records to track patients and link up with housing services, it is expected a third of patients could be discharged using this model by December.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has been able to speed up and improve staff rounds and discharge patients more easily using the Timely Care Hub, where staff can track tasks and patient statuses live and check information like anticipated discharge date and pathways. In future, the trust will also be able to use the Timely Care Hub to check outstanding risk assessments for things like falls, infection control, and pain assessment.

Patients at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust in Teesside are benefiting from a new system that operates in a dedicated control room and tracks patients from admission through their hospital journey, highlighting in real time any issues that could delay their discharge once they are medically ready to leave. Following a successful pilot, this system is now being rolled out around the country by NHS England.

At a recent monthly board meeting, the NHS also outlined how it is bracing for another winter facing the possibility of higher than usual levels of respiratory illness including Covid, flu, and RSV.

With high levels of bed occupancy all year around, hospitals are putting more beds in place for patients and are on track to hit 5,000 additional ‘core’ permanent general and acute beds. More than 99,000 core beds will be in place across the country by December 2023, NHS England says, to boost resilience.

£250 million of funding has been invested since the UEC recovery plan was published to boost capacity and speed up discharge, with local NHS areas on track to create an additional 900 beds.

At George Eliot Hospital, the additional funding has been used to build two new modular wards and 60 new beds ahead of the busy winter months, while Leicester is in the process of rolling out three new wards, a total of 76 new beds, to reduce overcrowding in A&E, cut ambulance handover delays, and speed up response times for patients.

Earlier this month, the NHS announced its virtual ward programme would be expanding to children, with overall virtual wards bed numbers expected to hit an ambition of 10,000 by the end of September.

Health Minister Helen Whately said: “The government is working closely with the NHS and social care to prepare for next winter.

“Our Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, backed by record funding, has already improved A&E performance and ambulance response times. Thanks to that plan the NHS is getting 800 new ambulances, 5,000 extra hospital beds and 10,000 virtual ward beds.

“Getting ready for winter early goes hand in hand with cutting NHS waiting times – one of the government’s top five priorities.”

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