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Community values have the power to ease our winter discontent

It is estimated that the financial impact on the NHS of the extra demands particular to winter is in excess of £1 billion a year.

As healthcare providers, we plan carefully for the many elements of this additional pressure that are predictable – with meeting the particular needs of elderly people representing the biggest challenge. Add to that seasonal specifics such as flu, weather-related accidents, effects of fuel poverty and festive over-indulgence - health and social care providers face a huge shared challenge to keep the ‘system’ moving.

As the city’s main provider of community-based NHS care, our particular focus is on delivering flexible services in people’s homes, preventing unnecessary hospital admissions or enabling earlier discharge from hospital. We are keeping around 200 people a week out of acute care by providing them with urgent care in their own homes as a direct alternative to hospital admission. That ‘rapid response’ care is in addition to the 14,000 visits made each week by our community nurses.

This approach is showing results and needs extending. More than a fifth of the five million people admitted to hospital through A&E units in England last year could have been cared for in their own home if appropriate community service referral and provision systems had been in place.

Through the city’s allocation of extra winter funding nationally, Birmingham Community Healthcare has recruited more than 100 additional nursing staff to work both in the community and on the wards at our inpatient sites.

All parts of the healthcare ‘machine’ are primed and ready, with additional resources to help cope with the increase in demand. But a broader collective effort is needed and we must never lose sight of the fact that keeping people safe, supported and well is a shared challenge, not only for professionals, but every individual, whose collective actions and opinions make up the core values of a community. It’s not only looking out for an elderly neighbour, it’s making sensible personal choices when we need healthcare. Half of those people who are taken to A&E by ambulance following a 999 call could have been treated at home if alternatives such as the new NHS111 telephone service for non-urgent calls, local pharmacists, GPs or walk-in centres had been accessed instead.

The right care in the right place – that’s the objective; and healthcare service providers and users share the responsibility of making it the reality.