LONDON, Jan 9 (Reuters) – England’s National Health Service (NHS) is aiming to start discharging thousands of patients to care homes and other facilities over the next few weeks in a bid to free up desperately needed beds during one of its harshest winters.
The state-run health service, which provides free healthcare to the whole population and was until recently a source of pride for many Britons, is under strain after years of relative underinvestment , the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and strike action by frontline staff over pay.
Some patients are being treated in hallways and ambulances are queuing outside hospitals to deliver patients to the emergency room, as doctors and nurses struggle to get patients out due to a shortage of staff and beds.
The government said in a statement it would make up to £200m ($242m) of extra funding available in England to buy acute care places to allow patients whose doctors judge they have low medical needs to be cared for outside of hospital and £50 million to improve existing facilities.
The statement did not say whether the NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would also invest more funds in care beds.
The aim to refer some patients to other settings is a carryover from a practice used by the NHS in England during the pandemic, when hospitals sought to free up as many beds as possible for patients with COVID-19.
“The NHS is under huge pressure from COVID and flu, and in addition to tackling the backlog caused by the pandemic, Strep A and upcoming strikes, this winter poses an extreme challenge,” Steve Barclay, Minister of Health, said in the statement.
Barclays will address Parliament on Monday to outline further measures to reduce pressures facing the NHS.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said last week that reducing hospital waiting lists was one of his five priorities for Britain this year. He said this goal might take longer to achieve than others.
The government has previously announced additional funding for the NHS and social care, including £500m ($600m) for patient discharges, although the opposition Labor Party has said the money will not hasn’t reached the front line yet and is too late to make a difference. winter.
Health service statistics showed that more than nine out of ten hospital beds were occupied in the week leading up to the New Year, with 13,000 beds a day occupied by medically fit patients to be discharged.
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Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by David Holmes
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