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Government hosts NHS roundtable to prepare for ‘challenging’ winter

The government has hosted a roundtable with health leaders to discuss ways to mitigate winter pressures, improve performance and drive forward planning to ease pressures on the NHS this winter.

The government has hosted a roundtable with health leaders to discuss ways to mitigate winter pressures, improve performance and drive forward planning to help the NHS this winter.

The roundtable focused on identifying ways of speeding up work to cut waiting lists and increasing access to urgent and emergency care and elective recovery services.

A £200 million funding boost to help support services through peak months has been announced, alongside £40 million to bolster social care capacity and improve discharge from hospital.

The meeting was attended by NHS England Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard, National Medical Director, Stephen Powis, National Clinical Director for Urgent and Emergency Care, Julian Redhead and Chief Nursing Officer, Ruth May. Chairs of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health also attended with representatives from community health services in England.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “This year we started planning for winter earlier than before. We invested in more beds, ambulances and discharge lounges through our Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, and we’re freeing up 15 million GP appointments through our Primary Care Recovery Plan.

“To drive forward that progress, today we’re bringing together the best minds in healthcare who all have one shared aim – protecting patients and making sure they get the care they need this winter.”

Roundtable discussed virtual wards expansion

A range of measures such as the expansion of virtual wards, greater use of community pharmacy to ease pressures on general practice and more choice over elective care for patients have all been introduced.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, NHS national Director of Urgent and Emergency Care, added: “The forthcoming winter will be another challenging one for health and social care, which is why teams across the NHS have been planning for this busy period since the start of summer, including getting more ambulances on the road and putting more hospital and virtual ward beds in place as part of our Urgent and Emergency Care recovery Plan.

“Thanks to the actions taken, waiting times for ambulances and A&E services are lower compared to last year and the public can play their part over winter by accessing services in line with their needs – using primary care, pharmacy and 111 online or 999 in an emergency.”

The new funding forms part of the £600 million social care winter workforce package – with local authorities in the most challenged integrated care systems now invited to submit proposals.

Local authorities can bid for the £40 million to help boost adult social care provision over the winter months. They will be able to use the funding to buy more services aimed at keeping people out of hospital as well as more packages of home care which allow people to leave hospital more quickly and build back their independence, such as enabling a carer to come to their home a couple of times a day and helping them with tasks including getting dressed. The funding could also be used to increase the amount of specialist dementia support available in the community, services which also help to keep people out of hospital.

The NHS Confederations said the £200m investment was welcome, but the key issue now is getting the funding to local systems as early as possible so that they can use it most effectively.

It added that many members may question how much impact this will have given the close proximity to winter, and also what good this will do against the backdrop of industrial action estimated to have already cost in the region of £1bn.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “There is a clear need for honesty around the extent of the financial challenge health leaders face, not just in terms of the costs of ongoing industrial action, but in the efficiency savings they are being asked to make in an extremely difficult financial environment.

“The risk is that this money is simply absorbed to cover existing and escalating costs elsewhere, with patients seeing little benefit in terms of day-to-day care, waiting lists or performance. There remain serious challenges to be resolved, the most pressing of which is industrial action, and simply wishing it away will not make that happen. We need to see this situation settled as it has already gone too far. With consultants, junior doctors and radiographers set to walk out together later in the month, the costs of that strike alone will likely cost well over £200m, negating the effects of this new money, and putting patient safety at the highest level of risk we have seen for a long time.”

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