The real story of winter was characterised by the incredibly hard work of NHS staff to meet record levels of demand for emergency care to avoid a winter crisis, according to medical leaders.

A report by the British Medical Association entitled NHS Pressures - Winter 2018/19; A Hidden Crisis looked at this winters hidden pressures on the NHS and highlights that almost one in four waited over four hours at major A&Es and there were 292 A&E diverts across 32 trusts.

Cancer patients wait for treatment

The report also states that almost a third of trusts hit 100% bed occupancy at some point over the winter, and the waiting list for treatment rose to over 4.3 million people.

It found 24% of cancer patients had to wait over two months for their first treatment and that most doctors this winter worked outside their regular hours, and four in 10 NHS staff reported feeling unwell as a result of work stress.

Director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, Miriam Deakin said that these figures lay bare the strain that NHS services are facing.

She added: “This year we experienced unprecedented dips in performance in particular weeks of the winter as trusts and their partners struggled to meet the rising demand for care. We must not fall into the trap of normalising the pressure on staff and the mismatch between demand for services and the capacity within the system to respond.

“The combination of rising demand coupled with severe workforce shortages across the health and care system is having a visible impact on both the length of time patients are left waiting for urgent care, cancer treatment and operations, and the morale and wellbeing of NHS staff.

NHS long term plan is vital to address the winter crisis

“The forthcoming NHS workforce plan and NHS long term plan are vital for addressing this mismatch. We must move to a model where we are better supporting people to access the care they need closer to home or within community settings. This pressure does not only exist in the winter. In fact, deteriorating performance against key standards highlighted is a year-round phenomenon."

She said that trusts will be continuing to learn lessons from winter performance as they already turn their attention to planning for this coming winter. This includes opportunities for better joint working with local partners to plan together to manage demand.