The government and NHS should avoid short-term funding rounds when trying to tackle hospital discharge delays, according to a new report from The King’s Fund.
As one-off funding boosts become more and more common each winter, the think tank examined two tranches of social care funding in 2022/23 – one from NHS England to the tune of £250m and the other from the government for £500m.
After interviewing leaders from integrated care systems, acute trusts and local authorities, researchers found that, while the investment was welcome, a more long-term approach would have been preferred.
People highlighted how funding at short notice did not allow for effective planning – i.e., sometimes money was spent on residential care, rather than taking the time to develop more at-home services.
Providers wanted to be able to focus more on prevention and using the funding to stop avoidable hospital admissions, while others criticised the “burdensome” reporting requirements associated with each pot of funding.
The £500m from the Department of Health and Social Care came with fortnightly reporting requirements, but the health service’s £250m needed daily reports – something which was not known in advance.
Even though local health and care partners reported close working relationships, leaders in all six areas had incompatible views on what was causing the discharge delays in their region.
Disparate performance datasets further inhibited systems’ ability to work together more effectively – the report highlights how one place, which had put particular effort into developing a shared understanding in their area, was better prepared for the funding and was more innovative.
Co-author of the report, Simon Bottery, who is a senior fellow at The King’s Fund, explained: “Our research shows that it is essential local heath and care partners go beyond good surface relationships to develop clear, shared understandings of the causes of delays and the priorities for dealing with them.
“Short-term funding is not the best way to encourage this process so government should only use it in exceptional circumstances and instead focus on ensuring that systems have the underlying funding they need to develop and implement effective long-term strategies.”
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