Local health chiefs are to spend £11m on a raft of measures to prevent services from a winter collapse.

The money has come from NHS England after it identified Norfolk and Waveney as one of 10 areas in the country where health and social care is at risk of “systemic failure” over the coming months.

The sector is already under immense pressure with hospitals over capacity, significant waits for ambulances and discharging delays due to care shortages among the challenges facing the region.

Experts are expecting an exceptionally busy winter this year on the back of an abnormally hectic summer - a period which usually offers some respite to staff.

This is against a backdrop of growing backlogs and potential disruption of nurses striking - although precise details of the industrial action are yet to be confirmed.

The perilous situation has prompted NHS England to pledge £11m towards a plan to prevent system collapse in Norfolk and Waveney over the winter - which was agreed by health bosses on Wednesday.

The cash will fund a range of measures designed to increase community bed capacity to speed up hospital discharge and cope with "surges" of demand for emergency care.

These measures include:

  • Strengthening home support measures
  • Increasing the number of beds across the system
  • Recruiting new call handlers for 999 and 111 services
  • Increasing use of virtual hospital wards - where patients are closely monitored at home via video calls
  • The plan also aims to attract 'NHS reservists' - members of the public who sign up to do short-term work placements within the health service

A spokesperson for the health and care system in Norfolk and Waveney, said: "Our urgent and emergency care services continue to be incredibly busy and staff are working around the clock to provide the best possible care to patients.

"The Norfolk and Waveney health care system has been awarded £9.7m of revenue funding and £2m of capital funding to make targeted investments in initiatives to improve discharge and the flow of patients through our hospitals and into the community.

"We really appreciate the help loved ones are able to provide their family members by helping with transport and support at home wherever possible and we encourage everyone who has been invited by the NHS to their Covid-19 booster jab to take up this offer."

However, concerns have been raised that the investment may not be enough to prevent services from grinding to a halt - be that over winter or at a later date.

At a meeting of the region's integrated care partnership, Sam Higginson, chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, warned that the investment would only go so far in addressing the crisis.

Eastern Daily Press: Sam Higginson, chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

He said: "In my hospital we have been running on 100 additional patients since January, meaning having seven or eight patients in a six-bed ward which is not comfortable for anybody.

"The £11m will drop out of the system by about February time. We need a medium-term strategic plan about how we manage our resources together.

"We have got to put more money into social care next year.

"If we do not make these investment shifts we're going to be in real trouble and break ourselves."

Eastern Daily Press: Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: "At this early stage, it is hard to speculate in detail both what the impact of the extra money for health care and the winter months will bring for patient care.

"There is no doubt it is going to be challenging for patients, especially with the prospect of strike action by nursing staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust and Norfolk Community Health & Care, and the continual pressure around social care slowing down hospital discharge.

"The key issue is communication with patients so they understand the pressures and the different places where they can get advice and help, while also ensuring the most ill get the care and support they need."