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Government announces £250m funding to help discharge patients into the community

by Beth Gault
9 January 2023

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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced £250m of funding to help discharge more patients out of hospital and into the community.

The DHSC said once discharged, the patients will be given the support they need from GPs, nurses and other community-based clinicians.

It comes amid soaring pressures on GPs due to high workload and workforce challenges, made worse in the new year by delays with ambulances and emergency care as well as problems with hospital discharges.

Within the new funding, up to £200m will be spent on short-term care placements to allow patients to be discharged from the hospital into the community.

An additional £50m will be available for upgrades and expansions to hospitals, including facilities for patients about to be discharged.

The health secretary, Steve 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.’

Mr Barclay also said the government is trialling six new programmes in different areas of the country solutions to free up hospital beds in the long-term. These include creating specialised dementia hubs  to support people who have a greater chance of re-admission, using data tools to better manage demand, and developing integrated teams to  improve coordination between hospitals and community rehabilitation services.

But this latest announcement comes as GPs are already struggling due to unprecedented demand and workforce shortages.

Dr Kieran Sharrock, acting chair for the BMA’s England GP committee, said: ‘There is no doubt that the need to discharge patients who are medically fit to leave hospital more quickly is causing a huge bottleneck, causing delays throughout the system.  

‘However, it is all well and good investing in services to speed up hospital discharge, but it is irresponsible to think that this won’t have a direct consequence for another part of our health system. The Government has said that these patients will receive medical care from GPs, but moving pressures into primary care services, already at unprecedented levels of demand, will only exacerbate problems in the long run.’

He added: ‘Current capacity within general practice is insufficient to meet the needs of patient and routine appointments, let alone take on more work with the backlog of pressures from elsewhere.’

The latest GP appointment figures from NHS England showed that nearly 33 million appointments were delivered in November 2022, which is 18% more than in November 2019. Meanwhile, the latest workforce data found that there were 737 fewer fully qualified, full-time-equivalent GPs in November 2022 than November 2019.

The RCGP warned in December that general practice ‘is struggling’.

‘We simply don’t have a large enough workforce to deliver care to our growing population with increasingly complex healthcare needs,’ said Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the RCGP, who was commenting on the figures.

Before Christmas, GPs were urging NHS England to direct strep-A worried patients to NHS 111 after a rise in appointment demand from parents concerned about the infection.

The latest figures show that strep A infections and scarlet fever remain at higher than normal levels, with 29 deaths so far this season.