The NHS is facing the “most difficult winter in its history”, with nearly 90% of hospital trust managers feeling “extremely worried”, research has found.
NHS Providers, which conducted the survey, said that while cases of COVID-19 is “well below” their peak in January, some trusts are “beyond full stretch”.
It urges the government to offer cash bonuses of around £ 500 to prevent social workers from leaving for jobs in “hospitality, supermarkets or online companies like Amazon”.
Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers, said the bill would come up to around £ 750 million.
He said: “Although £ 500 is not as high as some retailers and hospitals offer as a ‘golden hello’ in the run up to Christmas, this is a price worth paying if it helps keep social care functioning “that we need it for the winter.”
The organization said the “traditional peak of winter demand usually runs from mid-November to late February, with the pressure often greatest in January”.
Health leaders are urging the government to take “immediate emergency measures to support social care,” it added.
NHS providers said they had spoken to 172 board-level trust leaders from 114 trusts,
According to the results, 87% are extremely concerned about the impact of winter on their confidence and local area.
When asked the same question last year, the figure was 56%.
In addition, 94% said they are extremely or moderately concerned about staff burnout.
Hopson said some union leaders “find it impossible to recruit additional staff.”
People working in nursing homes in England now need to be double-vaccinated, while those in other health settings have been given a deadline in April.
Meanwhile, the number of people waiting more than six weeks for a heart scan is 20 times higher than it was before the pandemic, a charity has said.
In addition, analysis by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has found that NHS England makes 10,000 fewer echocardiograms (echoes) each month than before the pandemic.
Echo looks at the structure of the heart and is routinely used to diagnose congenital disease and valve problems.
BHF said it is concerned that reduced access to the tests may have created a large backlog of people in need of treatment.
“Long waits put lives at risk,” it said. “Delaying a heart disease diagnosis increases the likelihood of death or disability.”
It said the government “must act now” to address the “cardiological NHS workforce crisis” and outline how “recently announced diagnostic centers” could be brought into play.
The latest figures show that at the end of September, 64,962 people in the UK had waited more than six weeks for an echo, compared to 3,238 at the end of February 2020, the BHF said.
The total waiting list is 149,050, of which 44% wait six weeks or more.
Diane Phillimore, 63, a nurse from Calne in Wiltshire, needs an echocardiogram to show if she needs surgery to repair or replace a valve in her heart.
Her initial agreement in March 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic. It has now been moved to this month – 20 months later.
“The whole situation is shocking,” she said. “I just want to know if I need surgery or if my heart is working properly so I can move on. Until then, it’s always in the back of my mind.”
Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at BHF, said: “Waiting lists for heart treatments were too long, even before the pandemic began.
“Without an echocardiogram, doctors cannot see how well the heart is functioning and whether anyone needs potentially life-saving treatment for heart disease.”
The Department of Health and Social Affairs has been contacted for comment.