Hancock allocates further winter funds

by Seamus Ward

17 September 2020

The Department of Health and Social Care has announced funding and additional measures to help emergency departments and care providers over the winter months.

Health secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) said £150m in capital funds would be allocated to trusts to expand and upgrade 25 more A&Es. The projects would increase space to reduce overcrowding and improve infection control.Matt Hancock

The funding is part of £450m previously allocated to improve A&Es – recently the Department announced £300m would be invested in 117 emergency department upgrades. All 142 projects are due to be completed by the start of 2021.

The £450m has been allocated from the £1.5bn in additional capital announced by the prime minister in the summer.

Mr Hancock said: ‘We are investing £450m to make sure our A&E departments are ready for winter. Hospitals around the country will be able to expand and upgrade to ensure they can continue safely treating patients in the coming months.’

The health secretary also unveiled additional measures to ease the pressure on A&E. These include piloting the use of the NHS 111 phone service as the first point of contact for people seeking emergency care. The service will triage patients, directing them to the most appropriate point of care. It will book appointments, cutting unnecessary waiting. Those with life-threatening emergencies should continue to dial 999, though 111 can offer advice and dispatch an ambulance if needed.

NHS 111 will receive an additional £24m to increase call handling capacity and to ensure more clinicians are available to provide advice. The approach could be rolled out across the NHS in England from December.

‘During the peak of the pandemic we saw millions of people using NHS 111 to get the best possible advice on Covid-19, and other urgent NHS services,’ Mr Hancock said. ‘These pilots will build on this and test whether we can deliver quicker access to the right care, provide a better service for the public and ensure our dedicated NHS staff aren’t overwhelmed.’

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said capital funding was also needed in mental health services to help providers keep patients are staff safe from Covid-19.

‘A&Es are not the only places where urgent capital investment is needed and we would like to see the same priority given to mental health where significant changes also need to be made to wards as services are remodelled to deal with coronavirus. Our mental health members are telling us they haven’t seen the anticipated peak in demand for their services yet,’ he said.

An extra £546m will be available to social care providers to boost infection control over the winter. The infection control fund, set up in May, aims to reduce the movement of staff between care homes. It can be used to pay full wages to staff who are self-isolating and to hire more carers so they work in only one care home.

Mr Hancock said: ‘This new funding of over half a billion pounds will support not only care home residents, but also some of the most vulnerable in society living at home and in supported living.’