It’s official: last year’s winter was the worst on record for the NHS, with patient care suffering on an unprecedented scale. Hundreds of thousands of patients were left waiting in hospital corridors and ambulances, while countless procedures were cancelled, and staff battled to keep providing quality services in the face of it all.
In part, this was down to the weather – February saw a cold snap so drastic it even has its own Wikipedia page. Just a mention of ‘the Beast from the East’ is still enough to make most people shiver. But persistent widespread snow and biting temperatures weren’t the only things ailing the health service. A number of other factors, including a lack of staff, crunched budgets, the burdens of an ageing population, and outdated infrastructure have all contributed the increased strain felt by the NHS..
And with healthcare bosses already warning that this year is likely to be even tougher, it’s clear the NHS’ winter crisis needs to be tackled head-on.Addressing the winter crisis in time
There are plans in place for improving the situation – but whether any of them can be implemented in the near future is another question all together. Consider the recent Autumn Budget, which promised billions of pounds of additional funding for the NHS. In time, this should help to ease pressures and offer a boost for UK healthcare. But these funds aren’t due to be delivered until April, which is too late for any benefits to be felt this winter.
Likewise, the staffing issue isn’t one that’s going to be resolved any time soon. It may even get worse, with recently published figures predicting the NHS ‘could be short of 350,000 key personnel by 2030’. It’ll take years of investment, recruitment and training to solve this particular issue.
The NHS needs some shorter-term solutions to help it run to the best of its abilities this winter. With staff so clearly overstretched, addressing the effectiveness and resiliency of infrastructure could be a good place to start.
Infrastructure that can stand up to the pressures of winter
With an increase in patients expected throughout the winter season, the NHS needs to make sure it has the right infrastructure in place to keep running smoothly, no matter how busy peak times get. In the digital age, this means having reliable, fast data networks to support the day-to-day running of the service.
Investing in robust data service infrastructure could help NHS organisations tackle the winter crisis on a number of fronts:
- As it stands, staff are often hampered by outdated tools, inefficient processes, or even just slow connectivity, meaning everyday tasks take longer than they should. By investing in modern data networks, staff can work more productively without being held back. And this can also support scalable solutions such as hosted telephony, allowing the NHS to run a more efficient service, even in busy periods.
- Resilience. When trying to offer so many critical services in busy periods, NHS trusts need to make sure their services are always online. A converged private network (CPN) can support this, offering high availability and resilient access options.
- During the overstretched winter months, a security incident like 2017’s WannaCry attack could be catastrophic, resulting in widespread loss of services and cancelled operations. A CPN can provide better protection against cyber threats, with firewalls and high levels of protection against all access points.
Many of the issues that plague the health service are complex, political, and can’t be dealt with immediately. But with the NHS ‘winter crisis’ seemingly becoming an annual event, it’s clear the public sector has to start solving problems where it can. In an age where access to reliable data services underpins almost every day-to-day task, investing in infrastructure won’t stop the winter crisis from happening – but it will help staff to tackle it to the best of their abilities.