Hospitals and care homes have not received a single penny of a £500m emergency fund promised by the government to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed this winter, the Guardian has learned.
Andrew Gregory www.theguardian.com
Ministers announced they were injecting the cash into the health and social care system last month, to help get thousands of medically fit patients out of hospital into either their own home or a care home as soon as possible in an effort to better prepare the NHS for the coming months.
“At the moment, one of the key challenges is discharging patients from hospital into more appropriate care settings to free up beds and help improve ambulance response times,” Thérèse Coffey, the then health and social care secretary, said on 22 September. “To tackle that, I can announce today that we are launching a £500m adult social care discharge fund for this winter.”
However, the Guardian has been told that none of the funding has materialised. Senior health and social care sources described the government’s failure to release the promised cash as “inexplicable” and “outrageous”.
More than 13,000 of the 100,000 NHS hospital beds in England currently contain “delayed discharge” patients, which has led to A&E units becoming heavily congested and long delays in ambulance handovers. As a direct result, thousands of 999 patients are suffering potential “severe harm” every month because ambulances are stuck outside hospitals.
The revelation comes after Coffey, demoted to environment secretary this week by the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, took to Twitter on Tuesday to trumpet her 50 days in charge of the NHS and social care. “Huge thanks to my great ministerial team [at the Department of Health and Social Care],” she wrote. “We achieved a lot together in seven weeks.”
The £500m adult social care discharge fund was intended to relieve pressure on hospitals by ensuring that patients whom doctors have judged well enough to leave can be safely discharged either to their home or into a care home.
Ministers said the £500m was going to help hospitals, care home operators and providers of domiciliary care services, which mainly assist frail elderly people who live at home with tasks such as eating, dressing and getting out of bed.
“The local NHS will be working with councils with targeted plans on specific care packages to support people being either in their own home or in the wider community,” Coffey said when announcing the cash injection last month. “That £500m acts as the down payment in the rebalancing of funding across health and social care as we develop our longer-term plans.”
The NHS Confederation, which represents the health and care system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, called on the new health and social care secretary, Steve Barclay, to make it an “immediate priority” to release the cash.
“Leaders across the NHS and local authorities are yet to see a single penny of this investment or any official detail on how it will be allocated,” said Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation.
“Currently, only two-fifths of patients in hospital are able to leave when they are ready to do so, including due to problems accessing social care, yet health leaders still do not know how and when the £500m will be released to the system. So close to winter, this is unbelievable.
“We have a new prime minister who health leaders hope will bring stability to the government and unblock the policy paralysis that has consumed Whitehall. Vital public services and the communities they serve are currently paying the price of this political chaos.
“Without the immediate release of the adult social care discharge fund, the prospect of a winter crisis for the NHS is extremely high and so the government really does need to act now.”
Labour MP Wes Streeting, the shadow health and social care secretary, said: “The NHS is facing the biggest crisis in its history and the chaos in the Conservative party is preventing them from fixing it.
“Even the sticking plasters promised to the NHS and care homes to get them through the winter haven’t been delivered.”
The Guardian has approached the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.