A £200 million “winter resilience” fund has been announced by the Government to put the NHS on stable footing ahead of winter.
It comes after the Prime Minister and Health Secretary met with NHS leaders, top doctors and charities in Downing Street to discuss a number of proposals set to keep the system running smoothly during the busy winter months.
Department of Health and Social Care officials said that the cash will help make sure patients are seen as quickly as possible.
It will also help hospitals keep up with pre-planned surgeries and operations to cut down the record waiting list, officials said.
Health commentators welcomed the extra money but questioned how far it will go amid ongoing strikes by doctors.
Ministers also announced that £40 million will be invested to bolster social care, with local authorities being urged to bid for a share of the cash.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Winter is the most challenging time for the health service, which is why we’ve been planning for it all year – with huge government investment to fund new ambulances, beds and virtual wards.
“This extra £200 million will bolster the health service during its busiest period, while protecting elective care so we can keep cutting waiting lists.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I know winter brings immense challenges for the NHS which is why we are working with health leaders to make sure we are prepared earlier.”
Health officials are expecting an influx of cases of Covid, flu and other respiratory illnesses usually seen around the winter months.
Many health commentators have said that last winter was one of the worst on record for the NHS and hospital bosses have been planning for months to prevent the same happening this winter.
Rapid response teams to help people who have fallen at home and 24/7 care traffic control centres are part of new NHS plans to prepare for winter.
— NHS England (@NHSEngland) October 18, 2022
Earlier this year, NHS England announced plans for cash incentives for local hospitals that “overachieve” on performance measures such as A&E waiting times and ambulance handover times.
It also announced plans to introduce social care “traffic control centres” to help speed up hospital discharges so patients could be shipped out of hospitals when they no longer needed to be there.
Other plans include having more ambulances on the road, extra beds in hospitals, a ramping up of the use of “acute respiratory hubs” and more “virtual ward” capacity.
Commenting on the new cash, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Today’s clear support and confirmation of funding from the Government is welcome.
“Since the publication of our Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan at the start of the year and thanks to the efforts of staff, waiting times for ambulances and A&E services have improved for patients and as ever, the public can also play their part – get your winter vaccines when invited and use services in the usual way – 999 in an emergency and 111 online for other health conditions.”
The announcement comes after Healthwatch England said that more must be done to support people caught up in the record backlog of care.
A record 7.6 million people are waiting for treatment in England. New figures on the waiting list are due to be published on Thursday.
Commenting on the announcement, Louise Ansari, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said: “We know that many patients are concerned about being able to access timely care when the NHS is under so much pressure.
“Therefore, any extra investment to help ensure people can get care they need this winter will be welcomed by patients and services alike.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the money “should help NHS leaders in their efforts to prepare for and mitigate against the impacts of what will be a seriously difficult and challenging winter period”.
He added: “Many of our 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 £1 billion.”
Miriam Deakin, from NHS Providers, added: “Trusts are working incredibly hard ahead of what is expected to be another tough winter for the NHS, with industrial action, rising waiting lists and demand on emergency services expected to pile on the pressure. Today’s announcement of £200 million is of course welcome given the challenges the NHS faces.
“Trust leaders tell us that the most pressing challenge facing the NHS this winter is now the real prospect of sustained industrial action. They will rightly ask questions about whether enough is being done to resolve wave after wave of highly disruptive strikes.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the announcement was a “sticking plaster when the NHS needs major surgery” and claimed it would do “nothing” compared with the damage of ongoing strikes.
“If the Conservatives are not even going to try to put a stop to these strikes, then what is the point of them?” he asked.
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “If we’re to prevent a health crisis this winter, we must make sure primary care is not overlooked.
It has been disappointing to see that there is no additional funding for primary care in the Government’s Winter Plan.”