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NHS England to use live seasonal illness data to plan winter capacity

Data revealing patterns of seasonal illness outbreaks will be used to direct patients to ‘hot clinics’ to ease pressurs, NHS England has said.

Data collected by Public Health England (PHE) will reveal when it is more likely to expect a rise in the outbreak of acute seasonal illnesses or flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and norovirus.

The NHS will then formulate a response that will allow the service to improve efficiency – by, for instance, rescheduling planned surgeries or freeing up beds.

Hot clinics are in-hospital outpatient departments that replace routine follow-up appointments, NHS England explained.

They allow GPs to refer their patients to hospital specialists that are particularly important in winter, such as paediatricians, respiratory specialists, and geriatricians.

They offer GPs an option to allow patients with semi-urgent problems to visit a specialist, without the necessity of issuing A&E referrals, thus reducing pressures on A&E, NHE England said.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Outpatient appointments can be switched to “hot clinics” that avoid A&E referrals by providing direct access to GPs and staff can be moved from planned activity to support general medicine, care of the elderly, those with breathing problems or stomach bugs.’

Winter operations teams are analysing this data to help the NHS manage winter pressures.

The NHS estimates that during winter, elderly people with breathing problems increasingly tend to visit their GP, with a rise of 10.5% per one degree drop under 5C.

Medical director at PHE professor Paul Cosford said: ‘It is widely known that every year we see an increase in illness during the winter and this means we need to do all we can to support the NHS during this time of increased pressure.

‘Even at relatively moderate temperatures there is nearly a 4% increase in deaths and nearly a 1% increase in emergency admissions for every one degree drop in temperature.

‘A combination of Met Office weather alerts and the PHE surveillance data, which includes syndromic data, offers the NHS vital tools for approaching seasonal demand for health care.’

PHE started gathering data in 2012, when it was trying to predict illnesses that would have impacted the Olympic Games.

Since then, it has increased the scope of its data collection to include GP practices, 111, out of hours GPs and A&Es.

Last month, the Government presented its Autumn Budget and announced an extra £335m to be delivered to hospital in a bid to help them cope with winter pressures, failing to mention funding for GPs.