Monthly column for providers and professionals working in healthcare from Professor Ted Baker, Chief Inspector of Hospitals

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Professor Ted Baker, Chief Inspector of Hospitals, CQC

As we head into the festive season, I want to thank everyone working and volunteering across health and social care for your continued hard work to provide safe, caring services under pressure and in difficult circumstances.

This year’s State of Care report noted a continued and relentless year-on-year rise in attendances at emergency departments and acute hospital admissions, while the latest NHS performance figures reveal trusts are struggling to meet key waiting-time targets as they experience record demand and early spikes in cases of flu and norovirus. This is against a backdrop of ongoing challenges around the recruitment and retention of staff.

Yet despite this, most services continue to provide good quality care and we have seen some great examples of trusts maintaining or improving their ratings. This is no mean feat, and I commend the dedication and hard work this takes.

Urgent and emergency services often bear the brunt of this increased demand. The pressures they face are often indicative of wider system issues. Where people cannot access the right care, in the right place, at the right time, they risk being pushed into inappropriate care settings and the emergency department is often the default option. We have highlighted before the positive impact of collaborative working and the importance of hospital-wide support for emergency departments under pressure. There also needs to be collaboration between system partners taking innovative approaches to ensuring people get the right care they need in the right place, reducing the ever-increasing demand on emergency departments.

At CQC, we recognise that we too have a part to play, and as such are continuing our programme of focused inspections of emergency departments over winter. These inspections have a particular focus on patient safety and are undertaken with the aim of supporting trusts to identify changes they are able to implement and benefit from quickly.

Last year, we published a report exploring safely managing increased demand in emergency departments. It featured practical solutions from staff and highlighted the need for health and care services to work together to help the whole system manage capacity as demand grows. These messages remain just as relevant this winter, and I would encourage you to revisit this, and our other resource sharing best practice from clinical leaders in emergency departments. We are by no means suggesting that these present quick fixes or simple solutions to what is a complex problem, but they do outline the steps hospitals and wider systems can take to ensure patient safety is protected.

Over the coming months, we will be using our unique position as the regulator across health and social care to discuss the impact of winter on the whole system, so look out for more on this.

We are also pleased to be entering the world of podcasts and are set to launch our first series in early January. CQC Connect will hear from people across health and social care on topics such as State of Care, innovation, and the importance of sharing your experiences of care. Look out for more in our bulletins and on social media and listen to the trailers now.

Finally, as we enter the final countdown to the end of the decade, it remains for me to wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy and successful New Year.

We make sure health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care and we encourage care services to improve.

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