Funding for care beds ‘will not address root causes of NHS and care challenges’

“Tacked-on” funding to buy extra care beds in the community and speed up the discharge of hospital patients will not address the long-term root problems plaguing the health and social care sectors, the Government has been warned.

Ministers will spend up to £200 million buying thousands of extra beds in care homes and other settings to help discharge more 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.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the crisis will not be fixed “through tacked-on funding that fails to address any of the root causes of this situation”.

Councillor David Fothergill, LGA chairman, said: “It is vital that there is agreement about funding the ongoing support for people if the NHS funding of a place is time limited.

“This piecemeal allocation of funding is no substitute for a strategic approach to the pressure on hospital beds which requires a much broader range of actions to prevent admission, streamline discharge for those that do not need social care and focus on capacity to support recovery.”

The Association of Directors of Adults Social Services said the best place for most patients leaving hospital is home, and “legally and morally” it is right that people have a choice about where they live.

Its president Sarah McClinton and chief executive Sheila Norris said: “Use of the funding should be guided by the ‘home first’ principle, rather than the default being that people are discharged into care homes.

“Otherwise we run the risk of people being inappropriately placed and then remaining in residential provision indefinitely.”

They added: “We must stop thinking that pots of crisis funding are the solution.”

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, added that sufficient investment in domiciliary care is “imperative” so patients who can receive care at home get the support they need.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents independent adult social care providers, said ministers “never, ever understand that they should learn from their mistakes”, and that he is not clear on how the latest plan differs from the previous initiative.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I also think that a lot of the challenges we face are because successive governments have failed to find a proper approach to social care.

“And what we’re seeing now is the fact that people are going into crisis and then going into hospital.

“So what this new money might do is it might alleviate an immediate problem but it will not get to the long-term root cause of the issues.”

The Independent Care Group, which represents providers in York and north Yorkshire, said the funding is welcome but “is not going to touch the surface in terms of tackling the overall crisis.”

Chairman Mike Padgham said: “My major fear is that it will get bogged down in bureaucracy as the £500 million to aid hospital discharge announced last September has become.”

Labour criticised the plans as “yet another sticking plaster”, with shadow health secretary Wes Streeting saying “the front door to the NHS is broken”.

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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.

The funding will be used to buy placements in community settings, such as care homes, hospices, or independent sector hospitals, of up to four weeks per patient until the end of March.

Downing Street said the funding should initially create at least 3,000 new places, with ministers confident that capacity exists within the system.

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.

Up to £200 million will be redirected from existing health budgets to fund the scheme.

The additional £50 million coming from the 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:”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.”

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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.”

In an oral statement to MPs later on Monday, Mr Barclay will 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.