Hundreds of millions of pounds pledged by the government to free up hospital beds may not reach NHS trusts in time to avert a serious winter crisis, health chiefs fear.
The £500m Adult Social Care Discharge Fund was announced by the then Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey in September, to be spent locally on moving healthy elderly patients out of hospital and into care homes or their own home.
But six weeks on, none of the money has reached NHS trusts or local councils and distribution of the funds is still being agreed, i has learnt.
The delays mean that, at the start of November, health chiefs are already concerned that it is too late to avert an even worse winter crisis than had been expected.
Hospitals are already braced for a fresh wave of Covid and the most serious outbreak of flu for three years to hit the NHS this winter, while the threat of strikes from doctors and nurses over below-inflation pay rises could exacerbate the crisis.
The NHS Confederation has blamed the delay to the discharge fund on “paralysis” in Whitehall caused by a change in prime minister and secretary of state. Steve Barclay replaced Ms Coffey as Health Secretary last week.
Spending pledges made under Liz Truss’ premiership are all up in the air due to the Autumn Statement to be unveiled by Jeremy Hunt on 17 November, although the Department of Health said last night that the £500m funding pot still existed.
Out of the 100,000 hospital beds in England, more than 13,000 are believed to be taken up by elderly patients who are well enough to be discharged but cannot leave because there is no care home place or support at home for them.
The problem of delayed discharges is at the heart of the current crisis in the NHS, as so-called “bed-blocking” has a knock-on effect on hospital admissions, leading to ambulance queues and slower response times.
NHS Confederation chief executive, Matthew Taylor, has pinned the hold-up directly on the “policy paralysis that has consumed Whitehall”, adding: “Vital public services and the communities they serve are currently paying the price of this political chaos.”
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting told i: “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. When they do arrive, it will be too late to make a difference.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This £500 million fund will support discharge from hospital into the community, and can be used flexibly by local health and care systems to target areas facing the greatest challenge.
“Local authorities will work with providers to determine how best to use the funding. We are working to finalise details on distribution and these will be announced as soon as possible.” inews.co.uk