The health secretary has pledged £500m to get healthy patients out of hospital to free up beds and ease the crisis in the NHS.
Therese Coffey says there are 13,000 patients on wards who are well enough to be discharged and cared for at home or in the community.
And with the money – taken from existing departmental and NHS budgets – councils and local NHS organisations would be able to create more social care packages.
She also said that only 15 out of the 219 NHS trusts in England were responsible for almost half (45%) of all ambulance handover delays, often caused by a lack of hospital beds – although the Department of Health and Social Care would not share the data or locations with us.
Ms Coffey said local NHS staff in those areas would be “doing intensive work” to create the equivalent of 7,000 beds by focusing on discharging patients and using technology to monitor people at home, allowing ambulance crews to deliver their patients and get back on the road.
Other measures in the package in England, entitled Our Plan for Patients – health is a devolved issue for other nations – include a £15m pot to hire more care staff from abroad, changing pension rules to keep more doctors in work and allowing pharmacies to prescribe more drugs without a GP appointment.
Health secretary expects patients to get GP appointments ‘within two weeks’
What does the NHS need before winter?
COVID-19: Booster jab rollout moves to over-65s, carers and pregnant women
She told the Commons: “These measures… are the start, not the end, of our ambitions for health and care.
“They will help us manage the pressures that health and care will face this winter and next, and improve these vital services for the long term.”
But Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary, said the government was “out of ideas, out of time and without a clue”, and the measures “will not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge facing the NHS”.
He added: “If there is no plan for staffing, then there is no real plan for the NHS. As Dr Dre might say, ‘Time for the next episode’.”
The NHS is facing big challenges even before the pressure of winter, with record waiting times, ambulance delays and huge numbers of staff vacancies.
The Prime Minister Liz Truss said that health was one of her priorities, and Ms Coffey pledged to address the “A, B, C, D” of problems: Ambulances, Backlogs, social Care and Doctor and Dentist appointments.
But Mr Streeting said that her “Sesame Street” plan missed out the “N” for nurses.
Before her announcement, the health secretary said she expected all GPs to see patients within two weeks – and the most urgent cases seen on the same day – although her department said this would not be a hard target and there would be no redress for people not seen in that period.
The Royal College of General Practitioners criticised the proposal, saying it was “not a plan” and that Ms Coffey should have spoken to GPs to understand the challenges before “lumbering a struggling service with more expectations”.
And the NHS Confederation said there was a shortage of over 4,000 full-time equivalent GPs.
Mr Streeting told Sky’s Kay Burley: “Asking the Conservatives now to fix the crisis in the NHS is a bit like expecting an arsonist to put out the fire. They’ve caused these problems over the last decade. They don’t have the answers.”