Professional Comment

Why It’s Time To Move Beyond Short-Term Solutions To Recurring Winter Challenges

By Julie Tyas, Senior Qualified and Registered Social Worker and Senior Social Care Consultant, Access Health, Support & Care (

Every winter, the social care sector braces itself for a familiar scenario: stretched resources, overwhelmed staff, and a frantic push to respond to surging care demands.

This year looks set to be no different, with the government’s £40 million to bolster social care this winter reflecting the perennial challenges of short-term decision making, even if it comes from a good place.

For decades, the response to winter pressures has been marked by attempts to address recurring issues with temporary fixes. Every year we see bed capacity, staff shortages, and delayed discharges reach critical levels, and every year we see health and care services scrape through the season with little prospect of things being better the following year.

Part of the problem lies in the absence of strategic forward-planning, as well as a lack of investment in long-term solutions for a sector continually having to respond to immediate challenges.

Consider, for example, the decades-old problem of bed-blocking and delayed discharges, which escalate significantly over winter and have a domino effect on service delivery. This multifaceted issue calls for a cohesive strategy between the NHS and social care providers – something that can be supported through thoughtful planning and the innovative application of digital tools like bed cards.

Bed cards give hospital staff an immediate understanding of a patient’s care needs as well as a clear picture of their recovery status. Not only do they help cut paper-based administration, but they also enable better bed management during periods of high demand, allowing hospital staff to easily identify bed availability and move smoothly move patients from the point of admission to the point of discharge.

Bed cards can also help in situations where patients are medically fit for discharge but can’t leave the hospital because the necessary social care provisions aren’t available.

Pairing bed cards with a digital brokerage system like Access Adam Care Commissioning gives discharge coordinators immediate visibility into the availability of social and community services, allowing them to put care packages together more quickly and identify the most suitable support for each individual – reducing that person’s likelihood of being readmitted to hospital.

Moving care closer to home
Moving care closer to home has long been an ambition, but it requires significant planning and investment in social, community and inpatient care.
The good news is there are measures that can be implemented now to support this ambition. Technology enabled care (TEC), including wearable GPS alarms and sensors, help individuals maintain their independence and make personalised and participatory care a reality, while reducing the need for in-person visits by care staff.

TEC solutions are designed to help care professionals and family members take a much more proactive and preventative approach to care. When used alongside technology like Access’s CM suite of products – which is designed to support efficient care scheduling by allowing care coordinators to roster the appropriate staff quickly and easily – TEC enables care staff to make the best use of available capacity.

Where admissions are required, the concept of virtual wards is gaining momentum as a viable solution to the NHS’s capacity challenges, potentially enabling patients with non-acute care needs to be discharged under the supervision of care teams.

Again, TEC plays a pivotal role in this, providing care teams with direct insights from in-home telehealth and telecare solution, and round-the-clock safeguarding for vulnerable individuals. All of this supports more sustainable and integrated care delivery by reducing avoidable hospital admissions, accelerating discharges, and helping individuals live independently for longer.

Time for a new approach
Technology is by no means a panacea, but it does present a way of developing innovative and lasting solutions to longstanding challenges in the care (and health) system. But the key to success lies in early adoption and meticulous planning – not responding to immediate challenges with sticking-plaster solutions.

Care teams face unimaginable pressures over the coming months, and any financial support delivered during this time is immensely valuable. But the timing of the latest government funding means that local authorities will once again have to resort to short-term measures to get them through the winter.

A considerable chunk of the funding will likely go towards recruiting care staff. While this is an immediate necessity, it doesn’t tackle the problem at its root, particularly when you consider that staff shortages peak as we head into winter. Beyond that, care providers and local authorities will have to focus on the basics: vaccinations, encouraging self-service via online portals, and emphasising preventive steps for overall health and wellbeing.

It’s high time the rinse-and-repeat approach to winter challenges is replaced with a new strategy – one that prioritises forward planning, digital innovation, and a cohesive effort between social care and the NHS. Only then can we bring about lasting change, and ensure that every winter isn’t simply a repeat of the last.