Steve Barclay hints at extra cash to help NHS cope with infl…

The Health Secretary’s hint came as he hit out at a newspaper report which claimed he had told Chancellor Jeremy Hunt the health service could cope without extra cash.

Branding the article “completely incorrect”, he told delegates at the NHS Providers annual conference in Liverpool on Wednesday that they would “see tomorrow whether it is true and we don’t get a penny”.

Mr Barclay said: “I can assure you the Treasury wouldn’t allocate any money to the Department if the Department said it didn’t need it, given the fiscal situation we face.

“Of course we face significant financial pressures and inflation is there.”

The NHS is currently set to receive £152 billion in 2022/23, £157 billion the following year and £162 billion in 2024/25.

However, NHS England has warned it is facing a £7 billion hole in its finances next year due to the impact of inflation and pay rises.

Mr Barclay said he and NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard had been “having a lot of discussion with the Chancellor”.

He insisted his experience as chief of staff at No.10 and as a Treasury minister had equipped him well to represent the health and care sector in funding negotiations.

The minister added: “I can absolutely confirm that we do need support to meet those inflationary pressures.”

His comments were welcomed by NHS Providers interim chief executive Saffron Cordery. She said: “Inflationary pressures have left a £7bn shortfall in the NHS’ budgets and tough efficiency targets mean more savings will be hard to find without impacting on frontline patient care.

“Leaders across the NHS will scrutinise tomorrow’s fiscal statement to see if the Chancellor has heeded warnings from trusts – and the Health Secretary.”

Mr Barclay also promised that the first tranche of a £500 million fund to combat bed blocking would be released to the frontline in early December, with the rest following at the end of January.

Trusts have yet to receive a penny of the adult social care discharge fund announced in September.

Last month an average of 13,600 people remained on hospital wards every day despite being medically fit to leave.

The Health Secretary said local teams would decide how best to use the cash and get patients off wards. Options include boosting domiciliary care capacity or funding physiotherapists.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard told the conference later that the £500m fund would be “another crucial part of the jigsaw” of winter preparations.

She said: “We know at the moment that two in five patients aren’t able to leave hospital when they’re clinically ready to move on, and a big part of that is the pressure on social care.”

Mr Barclay also suggested lower discharge rates at weekends needed to be tackled, saying: “Sometimes one can see in hospitals at the weekend that discharge drops so the question then is: ‘What is within the trust’s own control?'”

NHS data shows that in October an average of 6,828 patients were discharged per day on weekends, down a third from 10,211 on weekdays.

Delayed discharges and the impact of inflation on the NHS budget are also highlighted in a National Audit Office report today. It found efforts to clear a record backlog of 7.1 million patients waiting for treatment had already fallen behind the planned trajectory.

The NHS had set a target to increase the number of procedures carried out to 29 per cent above 2019-20 levels by 2024-25.

But the NAO said activity was five per cent lower in the first five months of this financial year, casting doubt on whether it could be ramped up that quickly.

The report concluded that a target to eliminate one-year waits by 2025 was “at serious risk of not being achieved”. Strikes, further Covid waves and extreme winter pressures could also disrupt recovery efforts.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said NHS backlogs posed a “monumental challenge” at a time when healthcare chiefs are “firefighting” across the sector.

She added: “NHS England’s recovery programme for elective and cancer care is very ambitious, reliant on innovative but relatively untested approaches, and already falling short of expectations.

“Patients will continue to suffer the consequences if NHSE doesn’t act now to improve its management of the programme.”

Separate research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies this week predicted the waiting list would peak at above eight million and will not begin to fall until late 2023.

Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said: “Tomorrow’s fiscal statement will have a profound impact on the quality and accessibility of health and care services for patients in the coming years.

“If NHS budgets keep being eroded by inflation, it is hard to see how ambitious government targets to reduce hospital waiting lists…can possibly be achieved.”

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