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Government Short-term Funding Boost to Tackle Hospital Bed Occupancy

The Government announced £200 million to buy thousands of extra care home placements in England to reduce the strain on hospitals. Further measures to address current pressures faced by the health service this winter are expected to be announced in the Commons later.

The announcement followed a weekend 'NHS recovery forum' in Downing Street involving Government ministers and NHS and social care leaders.

Bed Occupancy and Discharge Waits

The latest Winter Situation Report by NHS England published on Friday showed there were 100,425 general and acute (G&A) occupancy beds open as of 1 January across all of England's acute trusts of which 93,685 were occupied. On average, 100,271 G&A beds were open each day in the week ending 1 January, which was 6.1% higher than the same time last year, Average bed occupancy stood at 93.2%, a decrease of 5.2% compared with the previous week, according to an analysis by NHS Providers.

Between 26 December and 1 January there was an average of 20,302 patients each day who no longer met the criteria to remain in hospital, a decrease from the previous week. However, compared with the week prior, a higher proportion (63%) remained in hospital, the analysis found .The number of patients staying in hospital longer than seven, 14, and 21 days increased on the previous week, up by 5.9%, 2.3% and 0.9% respectively, it said.

NHS statistics also showed that nearly 44% of ambulance handovers were delayed by 30 minutes or more, up from 37.4% last week, and 22.8% at the same point last year. More than 26% were delayed by 60 minutes or more.

The latest data highlighted a "very challenging" situation for the NHS, with hospital capacity "under serious pressure", according to NHS Providers. Delayed discharges remained a problem for all trusts and was a "reminder of the system wide challenges felt across the health and care sectors". Overall, staff vacancies, absences, and industrial action were contributing to "a very difficult winter", it said.

Announcement in the Commons

The Department of Health and Social Care anticipated that today's £200 million funding announcement would lead to thousands more medically fit patients being able to transfer from hospitals into community settings over the coming weeks. The money was on top of the £500 million Adult Social Care Discharge Fund it had already announced. The funding was for maximum stays of up to 4 weeks per patient until the end of March.

Another £50 million was being released to expand hospital discharge lounges and ambulance hubs to help free up acute beds, it said.

Further measures, including a trial of new discharge practices to take place in six areas of the country, were expected to be announced later on Monday.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay acknowledged an "extreme challenge" for services this winter, although he insisted that much of the pressure resulted from a combination of COVID, influenza, Strep A, and strike action by health unions.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN)said bed occupancy levels were at "dangerous levels". Its Director for England, Partricia Marquis, said: "There is simply no slack in the system and precious few nursing staff. At the same time there are almost 90,000 patients who are fit to be discharged but there aren’t the community and social care staff to care for them."

Both the RCN and NHS Providers renewed calls for a fully funded NHS workforce plan. Miriam Deakin, director of policy at NHS Providers said that trust leaders were "doing all they can to deliver safe, high-quality care for patients, but they cannot weather the storm alone", and called on the Government to "talk to union bosses urgently about pay to avert more strikes".