Winter is always the least beloved of seasons but for those working in Scotland's accident and emergency departments, and patients who might have to use them, the prospect is particularly daunting.
Last winter, hundreds of patients waited more than 12 hours in A&E departments for a hospital bed.
Many were elderly. Older people are more likely than the young to have complex medical needs and are typically more susceptible to severe infection and falls.
Over the summer, The Herald has highlighted the growing pressures on the NHS linked to the ageing population in our NHS: Time For Action series, adding to a growing chorus of concern from nurses' and doctors' leaders as well as patients.
In answer to those warnings, the Scottish Government has now announced that is it spending £9 million to help A&E services prepare for this winter, triple the amount given last year and part of an already-announced £50m three-year Unscheduled Care Action Plan.
Will this mean A&E departments will run smoothly this winter? Doctors fear that even £9m may not be enough and highlight the ongoing problem of recruiting consultants to fill emergency medicine posts, but it will certainly make a difference and, for that, the Scottish Government deserves credit.
The key issue, however, is reducing demand for emergency and hospital in-patient care in the first place.
Introduce a flu epidemic into the elderly population and it is inevitable that a certain proportion of men and women will require hospital-based care, but better community-based alternatives could prevent at least some admissions. As the British Medical Association notes, GPs and other primary care professionals are central to providing such care.
There is some important innovative work going on in this sphere, such as NHS Grampian's dedicated helpline for GPs to discuss with A&E consultants whether a patient needs to go to hospital, but it is probably optimistic to assume such initiatives will greatly reduce admissions this winter.
Hospital admissions in Scotland reached the one million mark for the first time last year. The NHS budget, meanwhile, is not expanding to fit. The result has been overcrowding in some hospital wards and thousands of sick patients being admitted to the wrong hospital department because of a lack of beds in the appropriate ward.
Health Secretary Alex Neil rejects suggestions that the long waits in A&E experienced by so many patients last winter were due to a shortage of beds overall, saying they were caused by delays in discharging recovered patients back into the community. Whether there is a shortage of beds or beds are blocked, however, the result is the same: patients queuing up in A&E or being "boarded" on the wrong ward.
To equip the NHS to serve the ageing population better in the long term, it is essential to reduce the demand for hospital-based care by strengthening community-based alternatives. The latest £9m funding package for A&E departments will be a big help, but will not on its own solve this problem in the long term.
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