Emergency planning

NHS emergency planning has to plan for, and respond to, a wide range of incidents that could impact on health or patient care.

Emergency planning could be anything from prolonged period of severe pressure, extreme weather conditions, an outbreak of an infectious disease, or a major transport accident. A significant incident or emergency is any event that cannot be managed within routine service arrangements. It requires the implementation of special procedures and involves one or more of the emergency services, the NHS or a local authority.

NHS funded organisations must also be able to maintain continuous levels in key services when faced with disruption from identified local risks such as severe weather, fuel or supply shortages or industrial action. This is known as business continuity management.

NHS organisations must use the integrated emergency management cycle to anticipate, assess, prevent, prepare, respond and recover from disruptive challenges. The cycle ensures a constant review of activity and therefore robust preparedness arrangements.

Significant incidents and emergencies

A significant incident or emergency can be described as any event that cannot be managed within routine service arrangements. Each require the implementation of special procedures and may involve one or more of the emergency services, the wider NHS or a local authority, a significant or emergency may include the following.

Times of severe pressure, such as winter periods, a sustained increase in demand for services such as surge or an infectious disease outbreak that would necessitate the declaration of a significant incident however not a major incident;

Any occurrence where the NHS funded organisations are required to implement special arrangements to ensure the effectiveness of the organisations internal response. This is to ensure that incidents above routine work but not meeting the definition of a major incident are managed effectively.

An event or situation that threatens serious damage to human welfare in a place in the UK or to the environment of a place in the UK, or war or terrorism which threatens serious damage to the security of the UK. The term major incident is commonly used to describe such emergencies. These may include multiple casualty incidents, terrorism or national emergencies such as pandemic influenza.

An emergency is sometimes referred to by organisations as a major incident. Within NHS funded organisations an emergency is defined as the above for which robust management arrangements must be in place.

Winter wellbeing

From 1 November to 31 March is officially cold weather planning. Download free weather ready resources.

The cold weather plan gives advice to help prevent the major avoidable effects on health during periods of cold weather in England.

It aims to prevent the major avoidable effects on health during periods of cold weather in England by alerting people to the negative health effects of cold weather, and enabling them to prepare and respond appropriately. It recommends a series of steps to reduce the risks to health from cold weather for:

  • the NHS, local authorities, social care, and other public agencies
  • professionals working with people at risk
  • individuals, local communities and voluntary groups

The cold weather plan for England (last updated October 2021) continues to build on the experience of developing and improving the ability of the health and social care sector and its partners to deal with significant periods of cold weather.

Listening to the local radio will provide you with updates on the weather forecasts and plan for safe journeys.

The cold weather alert service begins on 1 November and runs until 31 March. However, if alert thresholds are reached outside this period an extraordinary cold weather alert will be issued and stakeholders are encouraged to take action, including comms activities. This year, the alert service has moved to a new, upgraded platform. Therefore, current and new users must register their email address with the new system to receive alerts this year.

Cold weather health risks and COVID-19

COVID-19 is likely to amplify the risks of cold weather. Fear of COVID-19 should not prevent action to tackle the risks from cold temperatures and winter weather. It is critical that actions to prevent health harms from cold temperatures and winter weather continue, including identifying and supporting those at risk, with necessary adaptations in line with coronavirus guidance to keep everyone safe.


Business continuity

Business continuity is often described as just common sense. It is about taking responsibility for your business and enabling it to stay on course whatever storms it is forced to weather. It is about keeping calm and carrying on!

Business continuity is about building and improving resilience in your business. It is about identifying your key products and services and the most urgent activities that underpin them.

Once that analysis is complete, it is about devising plans and strategies that will enable you to continue your business operations and enable you to recover quickly and effectively from any type disruption whatever its size or cause. It gives you a solid framework to lean on in times of crisis and provides stability and security. In fact, embedding business continuity into your business is proven to bring business benefits.

Business continuity is defined as the capability of the organisation to continue delivery of products or services at acceptable predefined levels following a disruptive incident.

Business continuity management is defined as a holistic management process that identifies potential threats to an organisation and the impacts to business operations those threats, if realised, might cause, and which provides a framework for building organisational resilience with the capability of an effective response that safeguards the interests of its key stakeholders, reputation, brand and value-creating activities.

The NHS is required to have robust business continuity plans in place to ensure that effective levels of service provision are maintained during major service disruption caused by such things as:

  • severe weather
  • mass casualties
  • pandemic influenza