My winter – NHS Emergency Planning Manager Luke Peachey

The Trust is a major trauma centre and deals with some of the most serious medical and trauma issues in the country. Luke works within the Trust's operational team which manages the day-to-day running of the Trust, here is tells how he plans for and copes with winter weather.

Winter in NHS hospitals

When most people think of winter and NHS they think of a struggle. Most conjure up the image of vast numbers of patients with endless hospital waits suggesting there aren’t enough resources to cope. But I would say you shouldn’t believe everything you read and see.  The reality is that a great deal of preparation takes place, months in advance, to prevent the so-called struggle.  Everyone works tirelessly to ensure patients get safe care.  

Winter planning

‘Winter Plans’ are primarily aimed at three key areas; preparedness, prevention and protection against the major avoidable ill-effects of winter on people’s health.

Our Trust sees more than 175,000 patients every year, a huge amount of who obviously visit us through the winter. My role along with my peers involves ensuring that every single one of these patients, their friends, families as well as our staff are safe when they’re with us.

Planning for other impacts

In the lead up, and throughout the winter, some of the threats I prepare for include; extreme weather, IT, electrical, water and gas failures.  There are other preparations and plans which I also work up.  They apply to emergency services and responses to major incidents, which could invariably include mass casualties and danger to the public, most people are unaware of this element of winter planning.

We all know the NHS is continually under pressure, the media reports it constantly.  It’s exacerbated during winter when hospitals see a surge in demand and increased challenges, with A&E often bearing the brunt of it.   This pressure isn’t solely due to the number of patients coming through A&E doors - what we see now is an increasing number of patients with complex needs which require more medical attention, and therefore longer stays in hospitals. This is a major issue we have had to adapt to. If we can’t discharge a patient because it’s not safe to return home, due to bad weather or lack of care or both, we then have to rethink and re-plan for how we’ll care for new patients coming through the door needing a bed.

How bad winter weather affects hospitals

Bad winter weather, such as snow and ice or prolonged sub-zero temperatures inevitably increases demand.  A sudden drop in temperature increases the risk of accidents and can increase the severity of injuries. It can also aggravate existing medical conditions, such as arthritis and respiratory issues; meaning people are more likely to need to come to hospital, adding to demand. 

We have to consider all this and plan for it, well before winter – we work on this at the end of summer.  

Using weather forecasts and alerts

During winter the weather forecast is my best friend. I get direct cold weather alerts from the Met Office (a special service designed to help healthcare professionals manage through periods of extreme temperature. The service acts as an early warning system forewarning of periods of low temperatures, which may affect the health of the UK public) which I continually communicate to senior colleagues.  The frequent updates allow me to understand and plan for staff getting to work as well as for them returning home, as well as ensuring essential supply routes keep moving.

The cold weather alert thresholds developed by the Met Office are important triggers.  They’re so useful that I’ve mirrored these triggers and matched them against what we do as an organisation.  For example, if ice and or snow is predicted our estates department ensures our onsite roads and footpaths are gritted and free from ice so the hospital site can continue to run safely with minimal impact on patients and staff.

Working flexibily to meet changing demands

It’s a difficult balancing game to meet winter demands.  We’re able to estimate the demands we are likely to face and prepare accordingly, but our plans have to be flexible.  They need to respond to constantly changing demands and we have to manage that with resource availability.  We’re adept at it, because hospitals and other health care organisations have a duty to ensure the delivery of high quality care throughout the winter period, no matter what it throws at us.

Planning for this seasonal event involves developing and implementing plans and corresponding local campaigns.  This allows patients and the public to understand where to go and what do for minor and major ailments.   It also ensures the system is informed of plans during winter; that staff and various departments know ‘the drill’ when responding to and dealing winter each year.  Our Winter Plan’ combines effective leadership, essential planning, an understanding of potential weaknesses and how to respond to any event.  

What is most important, despite increasing demands, is that the NHS will not compromise patient care, or standards. We continually strive to learn from previous winters, identify potential risks we could face and options we can put in place to prevent them.  It’s a tough and fulfilling role and one I thoroughly enjoy.

 

More about Luke Peachey

Luke Peachy is the Emergency Planning Manager for University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust. He is responsible for developing and maintaining strategic plans for preventing and responding to a vast amount of emergencies. Luke is also responsible for reducing the impact of patients and the overall Trust during the response and recovery from emergencies. 

Luke’s initial career was spent working as a Senior Charge Nurse for 12 years in the Emergency Department, alongside ten years with West Midlands Ambulance Service and two years with West Midlands Care Team.

Luke is fortunate as he is able to utilise his clinical experience within his current role and is able to use this to understand how different services operates while planning for emergencies and the impact this could potentially cause.  Luke is innovative, and has an eye for detail which is hugely beneficial in his work as and Emergency Planning Manager.