A Government announcement of funding for an extra 900 hospital beds in England this winter was welcomed by the body representing NHS trusts. However, NHS Providers warned it was "one piece of a much larger puzzle" for tackling challenges in health and social care.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it was allocating £250 million to NHS hospitals to increase capacity as part of an urgent and emergency care recovery plan.
The additional extra bed capacity would include more than 60 intermediate care beds, as well as improvements to assessment spaces and cubicles in accident and emergency departments. Some of the capital would be spent developing or expanding urgent treatment centres and same day emergency care services.
Money is Part of an Urgent and Emergency Recovery Plan
The DHSC said the money formed part of its overall ambition, set out in January, to create 5000 "sustainable" hospital beds, backed by a £1 billion fund dedicated to boosting frontline capacity. The plan also includes a commitment for 800 new ambulances — including specialist mental health ambulances — to improve response times this winter.
Thirty NHS organisations across England will benefit from the latest tranche of money, and NHS England said it expected that most of the schemes would be be completed by January 2024. They include a £12.5 million scheme to provide 72 hospital beds at Peterborough City Hospital by converting under-utilised non-clinical space, and a 32 bed modular acute medical ward at Northwick Park Hospital in London at a cost of £22.6 million. Several trusts, including Hull Royal Infirmary, James Cook University Hospital, Airedale General Hospital, and Worthing Hospital will use funding to develop or expand urgent treatment centres.
Overall Waiting Lists Have Reached an All-time High
Amanda Pritchard, NHS England chief executive, said it was "right that we put robust plans in place as early as possible to boost capacity and help frontline staff to prepare for additional pressure".
Details of the latest funding emerged as a 4-day walkout by junior doctors in England ended.
Cutting hospital waiting lists was one of the top five priorities set out by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the start of the year. Last week, data from NHS England showed that waiting lists reached a record 7.57 million at the end of June. And a recent report by spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, concluded that the NHS faced a "significant challenge" to improve NHS urgent and emergency care in England in the face of rising demand and record bed occupancy rates.
Responding to the latest funding announcement, NHS Providers said it was a welcome move that could ease pressure on hospitals. But Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy, described it as "just one piece of a much larger puzzle". She warned: "Not only will these new beds need to be staffed, but underlying issues including workforce shortages, a lack of investment in capital, and the desperate need for social care reform will ultimately hinder progress unless also addressed."
Ms Deakin also noted that the extra capacity promised might not come through until January, and that to see the best results, "trusts would need these new beds before winter begins".