DORSET will have a seven day control centre to manage demand and capacity across the county as health services face one of their toughest ever winters.

Medical professionals from across Dorset are urging the public to step up and help ease the pressure on vital services through a number of important steps.

From December, a system control centre helping to manage challenges and pressures will move from five days a week to seven as winter issues begin to bite.

Speaking exclusively to the Daily Echo, Dorset’s NHS leaders said small steps from Dorset's residents could help staff who have endured more than two years of the highest demand and pressure ever seen in the NHS.

Read more: Hundreds of 'bed blockers' at University Hospitals Dorset every day

In a series of special articles this week, we will be presenting the challenges facing our NHS in Dorset, as well advice as to how residents can help.

What are the main pressures?

On the main pressures facing Dorset this winter, Dean Spencer, chief operating officer at NHS Dorset said: “What we’re seeing is the whole system under pressure.

“We’ve been here for two or three years since Covid struck.

“It strikes different parts of the system at different times. It could be ambulances that are having a lot of demand, then it will be the hospital under pressure or primary care."

One of the key things staff will be juggling this winter is the ‘flow’ of a patient – their journey through the health system.

Bournemouth Echo: Long ambulance queues amid huge demand at Royal Bournemouth Hospital

And perhaps the biggest problem facing the health and social care services in Dorset is the number of people in hospital who need to be at home or in a care facility, widely referred to as 'bed blockers'.

In October an average of 258 patients were medically ready for discharge at University Hospitals Dorset.

Mr Spencer continued: “The biggest problem is being able to get people home when they need some extra support or maybe going to a care home. This is the one biggest problem to enable the flow.”

Dr Paul Johnson, chief medical officer for NHS Dorset said: “Dorset is struggling with this more than others.

Read more: New chief of UHD to focus on patient safety

“But we do have a higher proportion of older people and with that a higher proportion who need care. The proportion of people of working age to provide that care is less and it does give us those workforce challenges. At the moment, there is a big gap between the numbers needing care and the staff able to provide that care.

“It means our staff are much more stretched.

“It may feel from the outside that our staff just aren’t doing what they need to do but they are just in such a stretched environment.”

'No respite'

Sue Sutton, UEC programme director at NHS Dorset said there was one major difference causing even more stress on services over the past couple of years: “The main difference is we always plan for winter, we know it is going to be more difficult, services will be stretched etc.

“Usually then as we go into spring and summer staff have a chance to have a bit of respite.

Bournemouth Echo: Royal Bournemouth Hospital

“There has been no let-up in the pressure all year round and we feel like we’re planning for winter all of the time really.

“Unprecedented levels of demand over the summer are really hard on our staff.”

Each part of the system has been focusing on how to ease this pressure.

From opening more beds, to using data in a more efficient way, the efforts have been described nationally as ‘data-driven war rooms’.

System control centres

Sue said Dorset’s system control centre is a newer version of what teams were working with last year.

“It’s a co-ordination centre that has access to data across health and social care", she said.

“It allows us to understand where the pressures are and allows us to work with partners to better manage demand and capacity.

Read more: Royal Bournemouth Hospital won't rule out critical incident

“It will allow us to make faster decisions and if we see emerging challenges and pressures, we have the data to manage it.”

She cited the example of ambulances queueing at one UHD hospital.

The new data centre would be able to divert vehicles to another hospital where the pressures might be lighter on that day.

“It is an enhancement to what we have had before. In 2020 we had a seven-day winter room; this year we have a more sophisticated approach to how we use our data", she added.

'Things feel harder'

When asked if 2022 had been the toughest on record, Dr Johnson said: “In some ways I think yes.

Read more: How NHS staff in Dorset are feeling moving into winter

"We have the highest number of people in hospital who we should be caring for at home, we have seen ambulances having to wait to get patients to hospital and then ambulances taking longer to reach patients and the longest waits for a long time.

“There are lots of things that feel harder than they have ever been.

“It’s difficult to compare to Covid which was a crisis where you didn’t know what tomorrow could bring so I think it is difficult.

“It certainly is part of the toughest three or four years the NHS has had to go through.”