Black Country NHS innovates through winter

New facilities, exciting digital innovations and thousands of extra appointments are just some of the ways the NHS in the Black Country has been working to manage unprecedented pressures this winter. 

The Black Country was one of the best performing areas in the West Midlands for urgent care during December, despite record levels of demand. The system had some of the lowest A&E waiting times in the region, even though local emergency departments saw nearly 20,000 more patients than they did in December 2021. 
Health leaders from across the hospital, primary care and community sectors have been working together to stand up a wide range of new ways of working, all aimed at supporting the NHS to help patients during the winter months. 
These include: 
  • A system control centre that monitors demand on urgent care services across the Black Country in real time and supports NHS trusts to help each other during times of peak pressure.
  • Updated configurations in hospitals to improve patient flow, including a new ambulance receiving centre in Wolverhampton and a dedicated discharge hub in Sandwell.
  • “Virtual wards” are freeing up hospital beds by enabling suitable patients to be monitored from the comfort of their own home and have cared for more than 3,500 adults and children to date. Dudley’s pilot virtual children’s ward was a national first and has since been rolled out to all other Black Country trusts.
  • New ways of working in primary care, including more than 5,000 evening and weekend GP appointments every week, plus additional appointments with a range of professionals to ensure people are seen by the right clinician for their level of need. These changes mean around 4,000 more primary care appointments are now being delivered each month than before the pandemic.
  • Dedicated community hubs offering same day, face-to-face GP appointments for children and young people with respiratory symptoms (those affecting the lungs and airways). The pilot hub in Sandwell saw more than 9,000 patients in its first year and was able to add extra capacity to support worried parents during the recent rise in strep A infections.

Richard Beeken, Chief Executive of Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust and urgent and emergency care lead for the Black Country, said: “The NHS and our partners across the system were in no doubt that this was set to be our most challenging winter yet, but it is our duty to work together to ensure we continue to deliver the best services we can for local people.

“I am proud of how our staff across the Black Country have stepped up to see us all through this pressured period – from those who devised and embedded innovations that have fundamentally improved how we deliver urgent care, through to those working flat out on the front lines providing compassion and quality care to patients needing our services. However, we recognise that some patients are waiting for longer than we would want, and we apologise for this.”

Jonathan Fellows, Chair of NHS Black Country Integrated Care Board, said: “This has been a tough winter: we have seen hundreds hospitalised by aggressive strains of the flu, a major cold snap that impacted the health of some of our most vulnerable citizens, a surge in strep A infections in children that was very worrying for parents and carers, and all while COVID-19 was still circulating in the community.

“I want to thank all our NHS staff for their hard work this winter, as well as the local people who are supporting us at this time by using our services appropriately. The NHS is very much open and here for you, so if you are worried about anything please don’t hesitate to come forward – use NHS 111 online in the first instance to get fast advice and ensure you’re seen by the right expert at the right time.”