Thousands of NHS patients in England will be moved into care homes as part of the government’s plan to ease unprecedented pressure on hospitals.
The NHS is being given £250m to buy thousands of beds in care homes and upgrade hospitals amid a winter crisis.
The move aims to free up hospital beds so patients can be admitted more quickly from A&E to hospital wards.
Labour’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, said the announcement was “another sticking plaster”.
The plans will be included in an emergency package to be unveiled by Health Secretary Steve Barclay.
Later in the day, Mr Barclay will outline a series of measures to address pressures on the NHS, including long waits for emergency care and delays to discharging patients who are medically fit to leave hospital.
The government says there are currently about 13,000 medically fit patients occupying beds in England.
In the coming weeks, some of those patients will be discharged from hospitals into the community, where they will receive care as they recover.
Of the allocated funding, £200m will be drawn from a £500m winter fund which was set up last year. This will pay for stays of up to four weeks per patient until the end of March.
The other £50m comes from capital funding and goes towards upgrading hospitals. The government says this money will be available immediately.
“Getting people out of hospital on time is more important than ever,” said Helen Whately, minister for care. “It’s good for patients and it helps hospitals make space for those who need urgent care.”
The package announced on Monday will include trials of other ideas to free up hospital beds in six areas of England.
The government says these ideas, which include dedicated dementia hubs and new options for rehabilitative care, could be rolled out across the NHS if successful.
Responding to the announcement, Wes Streeting said the government’s “failure to fix social care means thousands of patients who are medically fit to be discharged remain stranded”.
“It is worse for patients and more expensive for the taxpayer,” he said.
Of the new funding, £200m will go towards buying up extra care home beds, with £50m of capital funding to upgrade hospitals.
Plans to upgrade hospitals will aim to deal with ambulance queues by creating areas for vehicles to manoeuvre, and also funding discharge areas in hospitals so patients can be moved out of acute beds.
The package comes at a time when a spike in Covid and flu infections is putting severe pressure on the NHS, on top of a backlog caused by the pandemic.
A&E waits and ambulance delays are at their worst levels on record.
In a speech last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said bringing down NHS waiting lists was one of his top priorities this year.
Mr Sunak and Mr Barclay hosted health leaders in Downing Street for emergency talks on Saturday, as A&E units struggle to keep up with demand and trusts and ambulance services declare critical incidents.
A wave of strikes by health workers is adding to the pressure and the health secretary will host union leaders for talks on Monday.
But nurses are set to walk out on another two days this month without a breakthrough, which looks unlikely with Mr Barclay unwilling to negotiate on this year’s pay settlement.