Hospitals scramble to prevent crisis in NHS’s ‘toughest ever’ winter

NHS deputy chief executive says service ‘pulling out all the stops’ to deal with impact of bad weather, flu and vomiting bug

Hospitals are creating thousands of extra beds, hiring more staff and getting doctors to work longer shifts in a frantic effort to avoid the NHS being crippled by major problems this winter.

Fears that the service may face its toughest ever winter have forced NHS trusts to use beds in nursing homes, reopen disused wards and build new ones to boost their capacity. At the same time trusts are recruiting nurses from abroad to tackle staff shortages so they can cope with the expected impact of flu, norovirus and bad weather.

Dame Barbara Hakin, the NHS’s deputy chief executive, said the service had “pulled out all the stops” and taken unprecedented steps to prepare for winter in a bid to avert a crisis. Plans have been laid for several thousand more beds being available during the next few months, GPs to offer more appointments and ambulance services to have extra staff, Hakin added

One trust has even obtained a prefabricated building to use as an overspill ward if it comes under particular pressure.

The moves come amid mounting anxiety in government, the leadership of the NHS and hospital bosses that the service could be overwhelmed by the demand for care as winter bites.

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