The NHS Confederation, NHS Providers and a range of national health organisations have written to the Health Secretary and the Chancellor, calling for the discharge to assess funding to be extended into the second half of the year.
In April patients benefitted from the £600m government funding, which paved the way for more investment in community services. This meant that more patients were able to be cared for in or closer to their homes.
The discharge to assess approach has guaranteed four weeks of care support for each discharged patient, which was centrally funded. This allowed patients to leave hospital quicker when they were medically ready to do so, freeing up vital capacity.
Healthwatch England, the British Red Cross, the Local Government Association, and Age UK have all signed the letter, with the funding expected to come to an end in October. They are calling for the £600 million to be matched for the second half of the year, with concerns that this will have a negative effect on the NHS waiting list for elective care. There are currently 5.3 million people known to be waiting for treatment.
Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “This funding has been instrumental in moving patients out of hospital as quickly and safely as possible so that they can be cared for in or closer to their homes, and so that more patients can benefit from beds that would otherwise be occupied.
“The interaction of health and care systems is complex and can be controversial, but this is an approach that has been proven to work. With the NHS facing a mammoth backlog of care and with the government committed to unveiling a comprehensive social reform package in the autumn, this is surely not the time to be cancelling an initiative at the boundary of health and care that has worked so well.”
This has already helped to free up 30,000 hospital beds, and 6,000 staff, including 4,000 frontline nurses. It has also reduced the proportion of people staying in hospital for more than three weeks by almost a third.
Recuperation time has also been cut down in hospitals, avoiding the increased likelihood of physical and mental deterioration and lost independence associated with longer hospital stays. This has subsequently meant that the risk of hospital-acquired infections, including Covid-19 have also been reduced.
Siobhan Melia, Chief Executive of Sussex Community NHS FT, said: “We have known for years that the very best place for the majority of patients to recover is in their own homes with the appropriate package of support and care. Any delay to their discharge from hospital to their home, or a community setting, can have a significant impact on their recovery.
“While Covid-19 challenged all parts of the NHS one of the positive consequences of the pandemic was the way in which it brought people and organisations together in adversity in a way we’d never really experienced before with the sole aim of doing what was right by our patients and staff in such extraordinary circumstances.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that withdrawing funding for the discharge to assess model will have a detrimental impact on patients, will result in longer waits in hospital, and will make it harder for dedicated NHS and social care staff to deliver the high standards of care patients need and deserve.
“Instead of abolishing funding for discharge to assess our focus should be on looking at how we can build further on the benefits it brings for our patients, staff and the wider NHS and social care system as a whole, at a time when all services are under such significant and sustained pressure and rightly focused on recovery.”
The organisations are urging the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to confirm the discharge to assess funding in the coming days, so that health and care leaders in England are able to plan their services and ensure contracts are in place.
Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, said: “Everyone knows that discharge to assess funding has been vital in enabling more medically fit patients to be discharged quickly and safely from hospital into their own homes or more suitable community services. Failure to continue this will result in a cliff edge that is likely to lead to an increase in average length of stay in hospital, delayed discharges and avoidable readmissions – all of which are costly to the public purse and to individuals and their families. This is a decision the Chancellor has to make, or we risk leaving more patients stuck in hospital when they don’t need to be.”