Health and social care: winter preparedness plan 2023-2024

This winter plan represents a whole system approach to responding to a surge in demand for health and social care services and sets out the actions to help relieve pressure points across the system. The measures outlined are applicable throughout the year when we may face increased pressures.

Priority Seven. Protect planned care with a focus on continuing to reduce long waits.

Unfortunately, Boards have had to take the difficult decision over the last two winters to step down planned care in order to treat people requiring emergency treatment. Given the impact this has had on waiting lists, and on patients themselves, we are committed to protecting planned care throughout this winter.

Following the recently set ambitious targets, Boards have made significant progress in reducing the number of people waiting more than two years for an outpatient appointment by end of August, and 10 out of 14 territorial Boards reported five patients or fewer waiting more than two years. We will continue to work closely with the Boards and HSCPs to maximise planned care capacity and where the majority of long waits in some specialities remain, ensure these are cleared as quickly as possible.

How we will jointly deliver this priority:

  • Strive to protect cancer care with a focus on continuing to prioritise new urgent suspicion of cancer patients and protect theatres for cancer operating.
  • Work with Boards to maximise capacity through pooled lists: locally for high volume specialties (new and return patients) and regionally/nationally for longest waits/specific specialities.
  • Maximise theatre capacity including National Treatment Centres through expanded sessions in evenings and weekends.
  • Support Boards to maximise clinical validation of waiting lists to identify, where appropriate, alternative forms of treatment.
  • Continue to support Boards in the adoption of Active Clinical Referral Triage (ACRT) and Patient Initiated Return (PIR) to improve patient care and reduce waiting times by eliminating unnecessary face to face attendances.
  • Deliver the actions contained in the Endoscopy and Urology Diagnostic Plan.
  • Encourage the optimisation of digital solutions, standardise pre-operative assessment to reduce the need for unnecessary appointments and cancellations releasing capacity.
  • Protect planned care through maximising the use of day surgery units including increasing the proportion of procedures converted to day case surgery.



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