Funding pledge for A&E upgrades and 900 NHS beds ‘will not scratch surface’, doctors warn

Investment to upgrade wards 'welcome' and sorely needed but will only deliver one quarter of the extra beds that were deployed last year 

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Friday 07 September 2018 22:03 BST
A&E investment follows £36m to buy hundreds of ambulances ahead of winter
A&E investment follows £36m to buy hundreds of ambulances ahead of winter (Getty)

A government pledge to invest £145m in emergency department upgrades and 900 more beds will “not scratch the surface” of shortages which paralysed the NHS last winter, experts have warned.

While doctors welcomed the cash injection for A&E, last year hospitals had to deploy 4,000 extra beds to manage demand and said much more investment was needed.

This includes funding for temporary staff to cover rota gaps and sorely need spending on social care – to prevent patients coming to hospital in the first place.

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Care said it had brought the funds forward from its existing capital budget for new buildings, equipment and repairs.

The Treasury has said there will be no more money for the NHS or other sectors after Theresa May pledged an additional £20bn a year for the health service by 2023, but this funding doesn't begin until 2019.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said that pledges to increase bed numbers “were not achieved last year”, so new investment to deliver this was very welcome.

President Dr Taj Hassan added: “However, the scale of the challenge is significant, and we would urge a further consideration of funding for acute social care, more acute beds and greater flexibility with locum funding to help minimise rota gaps this winter.

“Without this, any improvements to waits or reductions in cancelled operations are likely to be minor.

The Society of Acute Medicine’s president, Dr Nick Scriven, said investment was coming earlier than last year but “will not scratch the surface”.

“Although 900 extra beds are welcome, we note last winter the total number of extra beds in use was 4,000, so this additional investment will need to be combined with efforts to engage with clinicians as to how to prepare effectively,” he added.

The extra funding will be used to streamline emergency departments and build capacity, longer term preparations which were not possible with last year's emergency funding which was only announced in the November Autumn Budget.

Ministers will be looking to prevent another situation where lack of beds to admit patients led doctors to warn Theresa May patients were “dying prematurely” in corridors.

Some of the projects earmarked funding include University Hospital of North Midlands, which will receive £8.8m for two additional wards on the Royal Stoke site.

While East Kent Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust will get £6.4m increase capacity for will increase emergency care bed capacity.

It follows a £36m payment to ambulance trusts to buy 256 new vehicles and upgrade depots.

NHS Providers, which represents hospital, ambulance and social care trusts, said these improvements are sorely needed, chief executive Chris Hopson said: “Trusts consistently tell us that they are struggling to cope with demand that is far in excess of what their A&E Departments were built to handle.

“However, we are worried about the coming winter… The single biggest thing the Government could do now to make a difference for the NHS this winter is to rapidly put more money into our increasingly crisis-ridden social care system.”

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Staff put in a huge amount of work preparing our health service for the challenge of treating more patients over winter and it’s right that we make sure they have the resources they need so people receive the care they deserve.

“That’s why I will be providing an additional £145 million now to upgrade wards, redevelop A&Es and further improve emergency care in time for winter.”

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