Rishi Sunak is holding emergency talks with National Health Service and care leaders in an attempt to tackle the winter healthcare crisis in England.
The NHS Recovery Forum at No 10 on Saturday will focus on four key themes: social care and late discharge, urgent and emergency care, elective care and primary care.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the aim was “to help share knowledge and practical solutions so we can tackle the most crucial challenges, such as delayed discharge and emergency care.”
But Sunak has been warned that the rare meeting at the weekend is unlikely to reverse the fortunes of the NHS. Labor said patients deserved more than a “talking point” and Liberal Democrats said it was “too little, too late”.
Leading doctors say the NHS is on a knife’s edge, with many A&E units struggling to keep up with demand and trusts and ambulance services declaring critical incidents.
Discharge rates fell to a new low in England last week, with only a third of patients set to be discharged from hospital leaving.
The meeting also comes amid an ongoing strike by nursing and ambulance workers over wages and conditions.
Health unions have been invited to meet with health secretary Steve Barclay on Monday to discuss pay for 2023-24 from April, but unions say it will not prevent further strikes planned for January.
Royal College of Nursing secretary general Pat Cullen urged the prime minister to “take up the nettle and negotiate with nurses” over the current arrangement to avoid planned strikes.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Of course we will go to the meeting and defend nursing in all forums, but sadly it is not what will prevent the strike which is planned for 10 days.
“I have put an olive branch so that we can sit at the table, now I ask the prime minister to meet with the RCN halfway. The ball is firmly in the prime minister’s court.”
The forum is expected to last for much of the day and attendees include Barclay, Treasury Secretary John Glen, Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden and NHS England Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard.
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said there were “no silver bullets” to solve the crisis in hospitals and other care settings.
“This crisis has been a decade or more in the making and we are now paying the heavy price of years of inaction and controlled decline,” he said. “Patients are experiencing delays that we haven’t seen in years.
“High levels of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and rising levels of covid are exacerbating the problem, but the cause is decades of underinvestment in personnel, capital and the lack of a long-term solution to the shortage of coping capacity for social care. .”
In addition to ministers, attendees were to include chief executives and clinical leaders from NHS organisations, local areas and councils across the country.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “As the Prime Minister made clear this week, easing immediate pressures while also focusing on the long-term improvement of the NHS is one of his key promises.
“That’s why we’re bringing together the best minds from the health and care sectors to help share insights and practical solutions so we can address the most crucial challenges, like delayed discharge and emergency care.
“We want to correct the unwarranted variation in NHS performance between local areas, because no matter where you live, you need to be able to access quality healthcare.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting described the meeting as a “conversational workshop”. He said: “After 13 years of NHS mismanagement, this is the equivalent of arsonists calling a forum with the fire brigade to put out the hell they started. Patients deserve more than a conversation workshop.
“Clinical leaders and health experts have been sounding the alarm for months about the crisis facing the NHS, so why did it take so long for Rishi Sunak and Steve Barclay to decide to listen to them?”
Streeting said the £500m promised by the government for delayed downloads “has not yet reached the front line and it is now too late to make a difference this winter.”
Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper said the meeting was “too small, too late”.
“Hundreds of people have been needlessly dying every week in the worst NHS crisis this country has ever experienced, while the prime minister sat idly by,” he said.