In her first major speech following her appointment as the new Health and Social Care Secretary, Thérèse Coffey has set out ambitious plans to bolster NHS and social care services over winter.
Her ‘Plan for Patients’ will inject £500m of additional funding into adult social care to help relieve bed-blocking in hospitals.
Unveiled on Thursday, Coffey, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, announced a package of measures to ensure the public receives the best-possible care this winter and next.
The Adult Social Care Discharge Fund will help speed up the safe discharge of patients from hospital this winter to free up beds, as well as helping to retain and recruit more care workers.
With 13,000 patients in beds who should be receiving care in the community, this will improve the flow in emergency departments and help reduce ambulance delays.
The plan also sets out interventions to improve access to general practice appointments, with the expectation that everyone who needs one should get an appointment at a GP practice within two weeks – and that the patients with the most-urgent needs should be seen the same day.
Patients and those who draw on care and support are my top priority and we will help them receive care as quickly and conveniently as possible
As well as more support staff, an enhanced role for pharmacists, and new telephone systems; changes will also be made to NHS pension rules to retain more-experienced NHS clinicians and remove the barriers to staff returning from retirement, increasing capacity for appointments and other services.
This includes extending retirement flexibilities to allow retired and partially-retired staff to continue to return to work or increase their working commitments without having payment of their pension benefits reduced or suspended, and fixing the unintended impacts of inflation so senior clinicians are not taxed more than is necessary.
Coffey, said: “Patients and those who draw on care and support are my top priority and we will help them receive care as quickly and conveniently as possible.
“That is why we are publishing ‘Our plan for patients’, which will help empower and inform people to live healthier lives, while boosting the NHS’s performance and productivity.
“It sets out a range of commitments for our health service, ensuring we create smoother pathways for patients in all parts of health and care.”
Alongside the Government’s plan to ensure patients get the best-possible care, Coffey also called for a ‘national endeavour’ to support the NHS. This includes encouraging more volunteering across the health service, as well as exploring how we use volunteers, such as supporting NHS ambulances in the areas of greatest need.
Having gone through four health secretaries over the last five years, health leaders will hope this will signal a period of stability in this office and a razor-sharp focus on the challenges facing the NHS
And funding of £15m this year will help increase international recruitment of care workers.
The funding will enable local areas to support care providers with activities such as visa processing, accommodation, and pastoral support for international recruits.
This will complement a national domestic recruitment campaign, which will launch shortly.
In her speech, Coffey acknowledged the scale of the challenges facing the NHS in the wake of the pandemic and the plan for patients builds on the NHS Winter Plan, including the rollout of COVID boosters and flu jabs already underway to help protect the most vulnerable.
Prime Minister, Liz Truss, said: “On the steps of Downing Street this month, I pledged that one of my earliest priorities as Prime Minister would be to put our health and care system on a firm footing.
“These measures are the first part of that plan and will help the country through the winter and beyond.
“Ultimately my mission in government is to grow our economy, because that is the best way to support the NHS and social care system and ensure patients are receiving the frontline services they deserve.”
Responding to the plans, Tim Oliver, chairman of the County Councils Network of 36 mainly-Conservative-run local authorities, said the fund was ‘a step in the right direction’.
But, he added: “With councils facing £3.7bn in inflationary costs this year and next, [it] falls short of what is required.
“[It] will assist with hospital discharges, but will not address other issues within the care system, such as over 500,000 people on care waiting lists [and] chronic staff shortages, with over 160,000 vacancies.”
And Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, added: “Having gone through four health secretaries over the last five years, health leaders will hope this will signal a period of stability in this office and a razor-sharp focus on the challenges facing the NHS.
“Our new Prime Minister has set out the NHS as one of her top three priorities and so, alongside the coupling of the Health Secretary post with the Deputy Prime Minister position, all eyes will be on whether we have a Government that finally delivers for the NHS and the communities it serves.
Demand for frontline care is through the roof, waiting time standards are deteriorating despite the heroic efforts of its staff, and winter seems set to be the busiest on record
“This is crucial because our 23rd Health Secretary has inherited an NHS and social care system in a worse state than in living memory.
“GP appointments, cancer treatments, and diagnostic tests are all above pre-pandemic levels, and patients who had waited the longest for an elective procedure have now received one. However, demand for frontline care is through the roof, waiting time standards are deteriorating despite the heroic efforts of its staff, and winter seems set to be the busiest on record.
Coffey’s speech came hot on the heels of Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng’s, Growth Plan 2022 announcement.
In his ‘mini budget’ he confirmed that the additional funding for the NHS and social care services will be maintained at the same level.
And he revealed a Bill that means the proposed and much-criticised Health and Social Care Levy, due to come into force next year, will be cancelled.
The levy would have impacted everyone paying National Insurance contributions and was going to be ringfenced so that every penny raised would go towards bolstering health and social care budgets.