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£500m funding to help hospitals discharge patients

File picture of patient in hospitalBBC News

A £500m fund to help get patients out of hospital is to be set up to help the NHS in England through winter.

Most patients ready to leave hospital cannot be discharged immediately, often because of a lack of community support.

Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey says the pot can be used to pay for extra help for patients who need it.

It is part of a package of measures announced by Ms Coffey, but experts said they amount to little more than “tinkering around the edges”.

Chart showing delayed discharges

Ms Coffey has also promised to improve access to GPs by allowing them to take on more senior nurses alongside giving extra responsibilities to pharmacists.

This would free up three million appointments a year – about 1% of the total, she said.

Same-day appointments would be available for patients who needed them, while those wanting a routine appointment should wait no longer than two weeks.

Reduce delays

The measures to support hospitals also include a promise to create more flexible pension rules.

Currently, senior doctors who take on extra shifts can face high tax bills if their earnings go above the pension cap.

Ms Coffey also reiterated previous commitments to take on extra 999 call handlers and free up hospital beds by giving more support to patients at home.

During the pandemic, patients who needed it received four weeks of support when discharged from hospital.

This scheme helped reduce delays but was scrapped earlier this year despite warnings from hospital bosses.

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Analysis box by Alison Holt, social affairs editor

Many in the care sector will view the £500m as little more than a sticking plaster.

The money helps but absent from the plan is the sort of cash injection needed to tackle deep-rooted staff shortages.

There are currently an estimated 165,000 vacancies in the care sector in England.

Charities, care providers and councils have all called for enough funding to increase care worker pay significantly.

The rising cost of living has made it even more difficult to recruit staff, who can often earn more working on a supermarket check-out.

In recent weeks, care workers have told the BBC rising prices mean they sometimes go hungry, despite working long hours doing a vital and skilled job.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is how intertwined the health and care systems are.

It is argued that for the NHS to be successful in tackling backlogs and reducing ambulance delays, then much more will need to be done to strengthen the care sector now – not just in the future.

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Ms Coffey said the measures in Our Plan for Patients would support the NHS through this winter.

“Patients and those who draw on care and support are my top priority and we will help them receive care as quickly and conveniently as possible,” she added.

But the plans have been criticised by doctors’ leaders and health experts.

Prof Martin Marshall, of the Royal College of GPs, said the announcement on GPs did not amount to a proper plan and would have a “minimal impact”, accusing ministers of “lumbering a struggling service with more expectations” without the means to achieve them.

“GPs share patients’ frustrations when we cannot deliver the care we want to deliver in a timely way,” he said.

“But we are caring for an increasing number of patients, with increasingly complex health needs and carrying out more consultations with fewer qualified, full-time GPs.”

Chart showing patient experience

Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, said the measures amounted to a series of “short-term fixes” that were tiny compared to the scale of the challenges.

While the King’s Fund said it amounted to little more than “tinkering around the edges”.

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “The Conservatives have failed to provide the doctors and nurses needed to treat patients on time – and patients are paying the price in record long waiting times.

“Unless the government bring forward a plan for the NHS staffing crisis , they don’t have a plan for the NHS.”

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