NHS set to buy care beds to make space in hospitals

Thousands of NHS patients in England will be moved into care homes as part of the government’s plan to ease the unprecedented pressure on hospitals. On 9 January 2023 The Department of Health and Social Care (“DHSC”) have announced that an additional funding of £250m will be given to the NHS to buy thousands of beds in care homes and upgrade hospitals amid a winter crisis (“The Funding”). The move aims to free up hospital beds so patients can be admitted from A&E to hospital wards in a more efficient manner. The government says there are currently an estimate of 13,000 medically fit patients occupying beds in England.

What will this additional funding be spent on?

As part of The Funding, £200m will go towards buying up extra care home beds, with the remaining £50m to be allocated to upgrade hospitals. Plans to upgrade NHS hospitals will aim to deal with the ambulance queues, by creating larger areas for vehicles to manoeuvre, and also funding discharge areas in hospitals so patients can be moved out of acute beds. The package comes at a time when a spike in COVID-19 and flu infections is putting severe pressure on the NHS this winter, coinciding with a backlog caused by the pandemic. This has caused A&E waits and ambulance delays to be at their worst levels on record. In a speech on 4 January 2023 Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said bringing down NHS waiting lists was one of his top priorities this year. Mr Sunak and Health Secretary Mr Barclay hosted health leaders in Downing Street for emergency talks on Saturday 7 January 2023 as A&E units struggled to keep up with demand, trusts and ambulance services declared critical incidents. Further compounded by the ongoing strikes by health workers which is set to continue another two days January 2023 as Health Secretary Mr Barclay has been unwilling to negotiate on this year’s pay settlement.

What is being said? 

Helen Whately, Minister of Care said:

“Getting people out of hospital on time is more important than ever. It’s good for patients and it helps hospitals make space for those who need urgent care.”

The Funding is being welcomed by the NHS. However, questions are also being asked why it has taken so long to release £500m of winter funding that was announced in September 2022. The primary aim of which was to tackle delayed discharges. The latest Funding is in addition to that, but the NHS is still waiting for £300m of the original £500m winter funding pot that was promised. This delay was caused due to the Truss government falling apart in the autumn. Labour’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, has said:

“The announcement is another sticking plaster. Failure to fix social care means thousands of patients who are medically fit to be discharged remain stranded. It is worse for patients and more expensive for the taxpayer.”

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