England is suffering the worst flu season for a decade, the health secretary said, as he sought to acknowledge “severe pressures” on the NHS and expressed “regret” for some patients who received poor care.
Steve Barclay said 5,100 people were in hospital with the flu, a huge increase from 50 last year. He said the increase happened “quickly and early”, with a seven-fold increase between November and December.
It came at the worst possible time for the National Health Servicewhen GPs were most stressed and forced to limit services due to staff illness, Barclay added.
At the same time he said, late discharge – people who were medically fit to leave hospital but were unable to do so due to blockages in the social care system – stood at about 13,000 people per day, about double the level during the first few months of the covid pandemic.
Despite criticism of the government’s handling of the NHS crisis over its refusal to raise a bid for striking nurses and ambulance workers. to get more payBarclay did not mention the talks to avoid future strikes in a statement to parliament on Monday afternoon.
“Every canceled operation, delayed appointment and ambulance disruption due to strikes could have been avoided if I had agreed to talk to NHS staff about payment,” said shadow health secretary Wes Streeting.
To avoid criticism, the government was unaware of the extent of the problems in the NHS after further reports of people suffering due to long waiting times for ambulances and emergency treatment over Christmas, Barclay acknowledged that there were failures.
“The government and I regret that the experience of some patients and staff in emergency care has not been acceptable in recent weeks,” he said.
Barclay confirmed plans to reserve beds in residential homes to discharge some 2,500 medically fit patients to free up space in hospitals. This would speed up the speed with which those waiting in ambulances could be admitted to hospital, and in turn free up more ambulances to respond to calls, she told lawmakers.
A Tory MP broke ranks to criticize the government for its handling of the crisis. Edward Leigh asked Barclay what “our long-term plan” was to help fix structural problems with the NHS and social care. He added: “We can’t let the Labor Party have a long-term plan and we don’t.”
The health secretary told him that there was already an elective recovery plan and that the ministers were also working on a workforce plan.
The largest chain of non-profit care homes has backed demands for higher fees for the use of care homes to ease the NHS bed crisis. Methodist Homes (MHA), which cares for close to 20,000 people in a national network of nursing homes, said rates were due to rise to as much as £600 a week per place, almost double the rate paid by many local authorities.
Care Englandwhich represents the largest for-profit care companies, also said its members needed £1,500 a week to adequately help those patients.
“As it stands, there are 165,000 staff vacancies in social care and if we don’t have enough care workers, we simply can’t take in more residents and care for them safely,” said Sam Monaghan, MHA’s chief executive. “New discharge plans must be accompanied by a long-term sustainable approach to financing social care.”
Meanwhile, council social care leaders said the £200m emergency relief fund had come too late. Warnings about the need for more funding this winter have been made since July 2022, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass). He also said the extra money given to the NHS to block care beds would mean councils would find themselves competing for beds with health boards.
Sarah McClinton, president of Adass, said she feared people being released from hospital could end up “inappropriately placed and then remain in residential provision indefinitely.” She urged as many people as possible to be cared for in their own homes.
“We must recognize that long-term sustainable investment is needed in primary and community care and support and for family carers,” he said. “We must stop thinking that crisis financing pots are the solution.”
David Fothergill, chairman of the multi-party Local Government Association’s community welfare board, echoed that criticism. He described the initiative as “taping tape” on the longstanding crisis in social care and £200m as “partial funding”.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, welcomed the use of home beds to reduce the intense stress in hospitals. But it was “only a short-term solution to the immediate crisis” and longer-term solutions were needed to avoid overcrowding, he said.