Thousands of extra medically fit patients will be discharged from hospitals into community care settings, such as care homes, over the coming weeks to free up hospital beds and reduce pressure on the NHS, the Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, has announced.
The government says it will make available up to £200 million of additional funding to immediately buy short-term care placements to allow people to be discharged safely from hospitals into the community where they will receive the care they need to recover before returning to their homes.
The move will free up hospital beds so people can be admitted more quickly from A&E to wards, reducing pressure on emergency departments and speeding up ambulance handovers. There are currently around 13,000 people occupying hospital beds in England who are fit to be discharged.
The additional £200 million, on top of the £500 million Adult Social Care Discharge Fund already announced, which reached the frontline in December, will fund maximum stays of up to 4 weeks per patient until the end of March. Integrated care boards will begin booking beds that are most appropriate to patients’ needs.
The government is immediately making available additional £50 million in capital funding to expand hospital discharge lounges and ambulance hubs. Ambulance queues in some areas are made worse due to a lack of physical space. The new money will create new ambulance hubs where vehicles can manoeuvre more easily to avoid delays handing over patients. The funding boost will also expand discharge lounges in NHS Trusts, where patients can be moved out of acute beds while they wait to be discharged, freeing up beds in the meantime.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “The NHS is under enormous pressure from COVID-19 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.
“In addition, we are trialling 6 National Discharge Frontrunners - innovative, quick solutions which could reduce discharge delays, moving patients from hospital to home more quickly.”
Sussex Health and Care, the Northern Care Alliance, Humber and North Yorkshire, One Croydon Alliance, Leeds Health and Care Partnership and Warwickshire Place have all put forward ideas that will help the patients in their area move out of hospital more quickly while providing continuity of care. These ideas include dedicated dementia hubs, new offers of provision for rehabilitative care and creating effective data tools to help manage demand for discharge of medically fit patients - giving them the help they need to live comfortably in the community after a hospital stay.
This new programme will trial long-term solutions to issues which result in patients staying in hospital longer than necessary. For example, one area, Leeds, is looking to improve how health teams in their local hospitals are working with those providing community services such as rehabilitation, which will mean better support locally for patients who need support after a hospital stay.
Prolonged stays in a hospital bed can contribute to poorer outcomes, particularly for older people, with increased muscle loss making rehabilitation harder, as well at the ongoing risk of exposure to infections and the impact on mental health. These delays also have a knock-on impact for other people, including those awaiting elective care and those needing urgent medical treatment.