PMQs: Sunak and Starmer clash over NHS waiting times
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More than half a million patients a year will be treated in “virtual wards” from the comfort of their own home, the Government has announced, in a bid to relieve pressure on the NHS. The Government said that the plan builds on the virtual wards already in place in the NHS, which see patients treated from home while monitored by medics either through daily visits or through video calls. About 3,000 “hospital at home” beds are due to be created before next winter, with hopes that about 50,000 people a month could eventually be cared for from home each month. Officials said that the plan would standardise and scale up current services to treat falls and frailty, with more services in place for next winter.
Under the current plans, video link appointments will be used to treat elderly and frail patients who would have otherwise been forced to come into hospital, occupying precious beds.
Ministers on Sunday said that a fifth of emergency admissions could be avoided with the right care under this new initiative.
Health officials said the “virtual wards” would be supported by £14 billion in extra spending on health and care services over the next two years, as the NHS tackles record backlogs, with seven million people on waiting lists.
Rishi Sunak said the Urgent & Emergency Care Recovery Plan, to be published on Monday, showed that the NHS was one of his “top priorities”.
Announcing the plan, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the plan would help ease pressure on stretched A&E services.
He said: “The health and care service is facing significant pressures and while there is no quick fix, we can take immediate action to reduce long waits for urgent and emergency care.”
He suggested that “up to 20 percent of hospital admissions are avoidable with the right care in place”.
He added: “By expanding the care provided in the community, the most vulnerable, frail and elderly patients can be better supported to continue living independently or recover at home.”
Recent weeks have been dominated by reports that hospitals are struggling to cope amid severe pressures on staff, with walkouts by nurses set to continue as a dispute over pay and conditions goes on.
The latest data shows that ambulance handover delays outside hospitals in England have dropped to their lowest level this winter, but one in five patients are still waiting at least half an hour to be transferred to A&E teams.
Experts say the crisis has been exacerbated by the number of patients stuck in hospitals due to a lack of care at home, or an absence of help to prevent deterioration.
About 13,000 hospital beds are filled by patients who are medically well, but need help to be sent home, or discharged to care homes, according to officials.
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Amanda Pritchard, the NHS chief executive, said: “Boosting care in the community and treating more people at home is key to recovery – it is better for patients and their families, as well as easing pressure on NHS services.”
But the Government has been warned that the plan will only succeed if serious action is taken to fix the severe pressure on the NHS.
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive at NHS Providers, called it a “timely announcement” but warned that the plans were “not enough in themselves”.
He said: “We desperately need action to tackle the vast workforce shortages, staff exhaustion and burnout, and the inability to free up capacity by discharging medically fit patients in a safe and timely way.”
Patricia Marquis, RCN director for England, also said it was the right aspiration. She warned: “But this plan relies on ramping up community services – services which in the case of nursing have been decimated in recent years.”
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