The U.K. government says it will spend an extra $250m (£200m) to boost England’s public health system ahead of winter.
Ministers say the money will “boost resilience” before seasonal illnesses like flu take hold and put extra pressure on hospitals.
Another $50m (£40m) has been set aside for adult social care services. The funding will be used for schemes that help keep people out of hospital and discharge patients more quickly when it’s safe to do so.
The government says the funding announced today will complement existing investment in new ambulances and in health technology that allows patients to be monitored at home rather than in a hospital.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said in a statement: “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.
“We are working closely with trusts to see how we can continue to use technology and new ways of working to strengthen health and social services, alongside the thousands of new hospital beds and hundreds of new ambulances we are already providing.”
Hospital leaders have welcomed the extra funding, but question how much impact it will have given that prolonged industrial action alone is already thought to have cost the National Health Service around £1 billion.
Ongoing strikes from multiple staffing groups have also compounded major problems facing the overstretched service. The NHS has battled record-long waiting lists and intense demand for hospital beds and emergency care since the pandemic receded.
Director of policy and strategy at hospital leadership body NHS Providers, Miriam Deakin said hospitals were “working incredibly hard ahead of what is expected to be another tough winter for the NHS.”
The £200m is “of course welcome”, she added, but called for “urgent clarity is needed over whether this money is intended for specific initiatives or to offer general additional support to health services.”
Hospital bosses “will rightly ask questions about whether enough is being done to resolve wave after wave of highly disruptive strikes.”
Both junior and senior hospital doctors are set to walk out over several days this month, with parallel strikes announced for September 20th and three days in early October.
Unions say better pay is needed both to attract and retain public health staff, particularly as an ageing population pushes up demand for care.
“It’s clear more needs to be done to resolve these protracted disputes if we are to put the NHS on a sustainable footing this winter,” Deakin said.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of industry body NHS Confederation, said the winter funds “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.”
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