£200 million to buy care home beds to discharge NHS patients

Care groups believe the package will do nothing to address the root of the problems, as Emily Morgan reports

Ministers will spend up to £200 million for thousands of extra care home beds in the hope of speeding up the discharge of hospital patients and reduce the strain on hospitals.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay will also announce £50 million additional capital funding for hospitals on Monday as the government comes under intense pressure to alleviate the crisis in the NHS.

Labour criticised the plans as “yet another sticking plaster” rather than an attempt to fix the “buckling” health and care services.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which is undertaking strike action over pay, argued the strategy “won’t make a difference” without halting the “exodus” of staff.

Some of the strain on the NHS comes from around 13,000 people occupying hospital beds in England – despite being medically fit to discharge – because they need further care before going home.

Mr Barclay is committing funding to immediately buy short-term placements in community settings, including care homes, to fund stays of up to four weeks per patient until the end of March.

He hopes thousands of extra patients will be discharged in the coming weeks, freeing up much-needed hospital beds.

If successful, this will reduce pressure on A&Es and speed up ambulance handovers by allowing patients to be admitted to wards from emergency departments more quickly.

Rishi Sunak has said that he is keen to ease pressures in hospitals by moving patients into the community where possible.

The prime minister says he wants to ease burdens seen in many emergency departments across the country

"The government announced half a billion pounds in extra funding to speed up the discharge of people from hospitals into their communities, or back home where that makes sense.

"Today's announcement is even more funding to help support those initiatives."

"That is the right thing to do because what it means is that it frees up pressure in our hospitals. That will ease some of the burdens that we are seeing in emergency departments and ambulance waiting times."

The prime minister said the move formed part of the government's plans to "drive down" waiting times in the NHS, as promised in his major speech delivered last week.

Rather than new beds funding coming from the Treasury, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said up to £200 million will be redirected from existing health budgets to fund the scheme.

The additional £50 million coming from DHSC’s capital budget will be used to expand hospital discharge lounges and ambulance hubs to help tackle queues of paramedics waiting to hand over patients.

Mr Barclay said: “The NHS is under enormous pressure from Covid and flu, and on top of tackling the backlog caused by the pandemic, Strep A and upcoming strikes, this winter poses an extreme challenge.

“I am taking urgent action to reduce pressure on the health service, including investing an additional £200 million to enable the NHS to immediately buy up beds in the community to safely discharge thousands of patients from hospital and free up hospital capacity, on top of the £500 million we’ve already invested to tackle this issue.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said Labour would instead “tackle the root cause of the crisis” by recruiting and retaining more carers.

“This is yet another sticking plaster to cover the fact that under the Conservatives, our health and care services are buckling,” he said.

“The Tories’ failure to fix social care means thousands of patients who are medically fit to be discharged remain stranded, leaving hospitals gridlocked. It is worse for patients and more expensive for the taxpayer.”

RCN England director Patricia Marquis said the “aspiration in this policy is right”.

“But the lack of beds in social care isn’t really the problem, it’s the lack of staff,” she added.

“Without investment in staff, providing more facilities – whether it’s more beds in care homes or hospitals – won’t make a difference.

“Nursing staff are leaving the profession in their droves and pay is a key factor. To halt the exodus, ministers must pay them fairly.”

Mr Sunak and Mr Barclay hosted health leaders in Downing Street for emergency talks on Saturday as A&E units struggle to keep up with demand and trusts and ambulance services declare critical incidents.

The wave of strikes is adding to the pressure and the Health Secretary will host union leaders for talks on Monday.

But nurses are set to walk out on another two days this month without a breakthrough, which looks unlikely with Mr Barclay unwilling to negotiate on this year’s pay settlement.

In an oral statement to MPs, he will also set out a series of other measures aimed at addressing the pressures facing the NHS this winter.

They will include six areas trialling longer-term solutions to free up hospital beds and ensure patients get the care they need.

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