NHS leaders call for clarity over funding to prevent winter bed blocking

Scotland’s NHS crisis Credit: PA

NHS officials fear they could be forced to raid already stretched budgets to prevent bed blocking in hospitals this winter.

The warning from NHS leaders comes as ministers have suggested that half of a £500 million fund aimed at freeing up hospital beds will come from savings made in existing budgets.

The Lib Dems branded the adult social care discharge fund a “sticking plaster” and called on the government to “get a grip” on the multiple crises facing the NHS ahead of what is expected to be a difficult winter.

The discharge fund, announced earlier this year, has earmarked £500 million for moving people into care homes to recover from illness, freeing up space in hospital beds.

But ministers have revealed that some of the money used to fund the scheme will potentially come from savings in existing budgets, while the remainder is covered by money raised from the now-repealed National Insurance hike.

Health Minister Robert Jenrick said that “approximately half” of the funding would come from “resources allocated to NHS employers for the health and care levy, which has become available as the levy will not be in place”, in response to written questions from Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

He also told MPs more funding would come from “underspent budgets, efficiencies and savings opportunities arising in the course of normal financial management from departmental and National Health Service budgets.”

Robert Jenrick insisted there was no question of renegotiating the fundamentals of the Brexit deal Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

NHS trade bodies aired concerns about the funding, with Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, saying it was “not yet entirely clear where the money for the discharge scheme will come from”.

She added: “If it is additional money to invest in care as expected, the £500 million earmarked by Therese Coffey will be a welcome boost to efforts to make more hospital beds free for patients that need them most.

“However, this is a short-term measure which is nowhere near enough to sort the huge challenges faced by social care colleagues and the NHS due to problems preventing timely discharges – now, over the busy winter and beyond.

“Trust leaders would welcome clarity on exactly how the £500 million will be deployed, as soon as possible.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said health leaders urged clarification “on when they can expect this funding to reach the frontline”.

He added: “With over 13,000 beds being occupied by patients who no longer need to be in hospital, and as we head into one of the most challenging winters on record, transparency and timing are of the essence.”

Credit: PA

Lib Dem Health Spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said: “The government’s new discharge scheme is yet another sticking plaster but one that comes with no new money.

“They are yet again rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic whilst it sinks.

“Half a million people in England are waiting for care, many stranded in hospital beds due to the lack of space in care homes.

“The Conservatives have been running our health and care services into the ground for years and have completely failed to get a grip of the multiple crises facing these services.

“The Tories must turn the ship around in preparation for winter or catastrophe will follow.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Credit: PA

Ahead of Rishi Sunak’s appointment as prime minister, a government spokesperson said: “Getting people out of hospitals and into social care support in the community is an important part of our plan for patients.

“We are finalising the details of the adult social care discharge fund to ensure it goes where it’s needed most and has the biggest impact in tackling delayed discharge and bolstering the social care workforce.”

The NHS is expected to provide the equivalent of an extra 7,000 beds this winter to help address bed blocking.

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