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Winter 2017/18 crisis

December 2017–February 2018

The winter of 2017/18 was challenging for the NHS. There were several factors at play, including severe winter weather, increased flu and increased norovirus outbreaks compared to recent, previous years.

Planning and emergency measures

The NHS undertook significant, high-profile planning to prepare for winter 2017/2018. Measures aimed to redirect A&E demand to community settings, increase hospital bed capacity, reduce delayed transfers due to social care, and vaccinate the whole workforce against flu.

The NHS also established the National Emergency Pressures Panel in December, which issued a national recommendation to trusts to cancel non-urgent elective procedures for inpatient work, except cancer, urgent and time-critical care.

Missed targets

The NHS Improvement review of winter 2017/18 reported 290,000 more people attending A&E and 100,000 more emergency admissions compared to the year before.

Throughout the winter period (from 29 November 2017–4 March 2018), 85% of A&E attendances were seen and either admitted or discharged within 4 hours, against a national target of 95%. There were also significant delays in ambulance transfers, with 10% of patients waiting longer than 30 minutes (target 15 minutes), and 3% waiting longer than 1 hour.

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, described it as ‘probably the worst ever’ winter, and CEO of NHS England, Simon Stevens, described February 2018 as likely the ‘most pressurised month the NHS had seen in its 70 year history’.


NHS Improvement.
NHS review of winter 2017/18.
NHS Improvement; 2018

Fisher E, Merry L.
Winter 2017/18: the worst ever for the NHS?
Nuffield Trust Blog; 2018.

NHS Providers.
Mapping the NHS winter.
NHS Providers; 2018.