Winter planning 2020-21


This winter is going to be one of the most challenging yet for the NHS.

The season usually brings with it a significant increase in activity as more people become unwell due to the cold weather and common winter illnesses such as flu, pneumonia, bronchitis and norovirus.  This year we are also responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, more than ever, it is important that we have tried and tested plans and good working relationships and networks in place with the people and organisations we will work with during this challenging time.

This briefing provides a summary of our approach this winter and aims to assure you that whilst we know it is going to be tough, we are ready to respond to the challenges that we and others will face.

Programmes of work are underway to look at how we maintain or enhance the excellent care and services our patients receive through: 

  • Hear and Treat (telephone assessments and pathway signposting via our control centre clinicians
  • See and Treat (treat on scene, non-conveyance to ED and referrals to other healthcare providers using our Paramedic Pathfinder initiative; and
  • Pre & post-handover processes to identify where we can work with partners to make further improvements.  

We continue to do everything we can to keep our staff and volunteers as safe as possible, as we respond to the pandemic.  Our communications and engagement approach will ensure we keep internal channels open to support two-way conversations, the sharing of timely and relevant information, and continued learning from events through the sharing of patient and staff feedback and experiences.

Our approach 

As well as our participation in the national and regional planning events, we are working closely with the organisations who regulate and commission our services, and our colleagues in other health, social care, emergency and public sector services across the North East this ensures an effective system-wide approach.

Data reviews tell us that ‘normal’ winter demand fluctuations over recent years, generally follow the same pattern.  However, 2020 is far from normal, so our plans include responding to both additional winter and COVID-19 related activity.

Experience tells us that we can expect adverse weather e.g. snow, ice and / or flooding, generating a rise in demand and difficult driving conditions for our emergency, urgent and non-emergency Scheduled Care ambulance crews responding in the community.

In the North East we have the benefit of managing NHS111 so the working relationships with colleagues are much closer in supporting our response to Winter.  We also have the added advantage of being a pilot for the Talk Before You Walk initiative expected to be in place across our region by the end of October.

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Actions we will take

To manage the increase in activity and keep patients and staff as safe as possible as safe as possible, we are monitoring and tracking activity levels and winter/ pandemic demand. As these levels increase, we will operate as if a rising tide business continuity incident has been declared.   This means: 

  • A strategic cell will monitor service delivery and escalate issues inside and outside of NEAS accordingly ensuring both the Executive Team and the Board are kept fully informed.
  • A tactical cell will be in place in the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to ensure operational challenges are managed effectively and issues escalated to the strategic cell.
  • To support medium term decision making and actions, we will continue to use the national Resource Escalation Action Plan (REAP) and for short term actions to manage surges in demand, we will continue with the internal Demand Management Plans.
  • On Scheduled Care we are working with commissioners to follow NHS England guidance on a return to previous booking practices for the discharge of day patients by hospital, whilst managing a reduced vehicle capacity challenge which COVID-19 has generated with the need to socially distance. 
  • Additional emergency third party providers will be increased to support forecasted peaks in emergency activity.
  • All departments will review and use business continuity plans, and where appropriate, adverse weather guidance and major incident procedures.
  • EPRR colleagues will play an important part at operational and local resilience forum strategic and tactical groups
  • Our Communications Team will support ongoing engagement with colleagues, stakeholders, patients and the public using a wide range of channels, including the NEAS social media networks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Non-essential meetings / work will continue to be reviewed to ensure we are able to maximise support to the frontline.

If you have a question relating to this briefing, please contact the NEAS Tactical Cell ( who can then forward on any questions to the relevant department head.

Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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