Ms Cowan made her remarks when Forth Valley NHS Board met on Tuesday morning and agreed to approve the local health service’s plan to tackle the challenges it will face over winter months.
The plan, presented by Dr Graham Foster, aims to keep as many people as possible out of hospital and get them the care they need closer to home.
It recognises that this year’s flu is expected to be worse than 2017 if it follows the pattern set by Australia where the flu season is earlier and provides a guide for other countries.
The NHS got off to a bad start thanks to a national shortage of the flu vaccine which meant a delay in immunising all primary school children and a slightly higher cost to catch up with all pupils.
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There was better news regarding staff, however, with 3500 so far having taken up the offer to be immunised – already overtaking the complete number who took the vaccine last year.
The winter plan also aims at reducing the length of stay for patients who do need hospital care and getting people through acute care as quickly as possible.
NHS Forth Valley will receive £521,184 from the Scottish Government.
A similar amount was given last year and they received an additional £300,000 to support the emergency department when it went into escalation, though this was not specifically funding for winter.
However, the health board actually spent £1.26 million in total and they are braced for another shortfall in funding this year.
Ms Cowan told members of the board that there had been some concern that the winter plan was focused too much on acute services.
But she insisted that it was in fact a “whole system” plan that would look at strengthening capacity across social care, primary and community as well as acute services.
One of the major concerns is delayed discharge and an additional ten intermediate care beds have been made available at Falkirk’s Summerford House and three in Ludgate House in Alloa.
The report points out that the hospital usually runs at an occupancy level of around 95 per cent so any spikes in admissions would need additional beds.
Winter contingency beds will be available at Falkirk Community Hospital but these will only be used if absolutely needed as the funding required – nearly £400,000 – has not yet been found.
The plan had earlier been submitted to the Scottish Government for approval but was returned with feedback and the deadline for submission extended.
It will also need to be approved by the Integrated Joint Boards for Falkirk and Clackmannanshire and Stirling.