PEOPLE in Oxfordshire are being urged to prepare their own 'winter plan' as the county's health services brace for cold weather to put further pressure on already-stretched resources.

Hospitals, GP surgeries, social services, paramedics, mental health providers and charities launched their own joint strategy to handle the winter period this week, aiming to 'scale up' work done last year, which reduced time spent in hospital by an average of 511 bed days.

Health bosses at the John Radcliffe (JR) have also insisted they are confident staff can cope with the extra patients during the 'high-pressure' season despite the hospital being at breaking point throughout the summer, with corridors having to be turned into temporary wards to keep up with the number of patients.

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The latest internal performance report for Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) shows the JR, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and Churchill Hospital, as well as Banbury's Horton General, were all operating at or near 100 per cent bed occupancy between April and July.

The recommended level is 85 per cent, with the Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, warning anything higher puts patients at increased risk of infection, as well as putting pressure on staff to free up beds which 'could pose a risk to patient safety'.

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John Radcliffe Hospital

Chief nurse at OUH Sam Foster said: “The winter months mean that there is an increased demand on care – which puts additional pressure on health and social care services.

"This year we are again working with our colleagues across the Oxfordshire system to ensure that we are all well-prepared for the extra demand and planning for how we can provide the safest care."

She said there were 'numerous measures' in place to get ready for this, such as increasing the number of people being supported the trust's ‘home first’ approach to both reduce avoidable admissions to hospital and get people home more quickly by improving access to assessments by physio and occupational therapists.

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She added: “We’re also emphasising the importance of people having their own winter plans in place – when people have coughs and colds, they should make sure they’re stocked up on the right medicines.

"We want people to be treated in the right place at the right time – whether that’s using resources such as NHS 111, their GP, or a local pharmacist."

The chief nurse also said the role of winter director, introduced last year, had been scrapped and services were taking a 'system-wide executive leadership approach' to enable providers to 'scale up' improvements made last year.

Successes highlighted by the joined-up approach included a 4.2 per cent reduction in the number of patients who had to wait four hours at OUH emergency departments compared to 2017/18 and nine per cent more 'timely discharges' compared to previous winters.

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Former winter director Tehmeena Ajmal

The system-wide winter team, based at the John Radcliffe, was set up last year following hundreds of cancelled operations and a 'black alert' issued by OUH during the winter of 2017/18.

A key pressure on emergency departments over the winter period is those suffering from flu and Dr Kiren Collison, clinical chair of the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said those ‘at risk’ from the infection should take preventive steps and get a free jab.

She added: "This includes people over 65, people with a long-term condition such as diabetes or asthma, pregnant women, and children aged two or three who will be offered a nasal spray injection by their GP."

GP practices will contact those patients eligible for the free flu jab to attend vaccination clinics which are taking place over the next few months in Oxfordshire.

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Ross Cornett, South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) head of operations for Oxfordshire, said it had also made changes to reduce pressure on the county's emergency departments.

He explained: “The new urgent care pathways mean that our ambulance staff on the road have direct access to specialists and clinical support, some of which is available 24/7.

"By working together more efficiently with our partners, we can avoid admission to hospital at all for some patients who previously would have been taken in, as well as bypass emergency departments for some patients for whom it has already been identified which specialist consultant or service they need."