Patients should receive a “seamless service” when they leave hospital, health secretary Andrew Lansley has said, as he announced £70m funding for helping people settle at home.
In a move designed to stop patients being re-admitted to hospital soon after treatment, Mr Lansley pledged £70 million for “re-ablement” packages.
The money will be spent on supporting people in the first six weeks after they leave hospital and could be used for things like adapting homes or providing drop-in services. It is estimated the cash will support around 35,000 people in the next six months, most of whom are likely to be elderly.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said patients were already receiving help when they left hospital but it was hoped the new money could lead to even more getting the right support. The funding will be given to PCTs for services in both the NHS and social care system.
In June, Mr Lansley announced that hospitals will be fined if patients are re-admitted as an emergency within 30 days of being discharged. Hospitals in England will be paid for initial treatment but will not be paid again if the patient is brought back with a related problem, according to the policy, which comes into force in April.
Mr Lansley said: “Too many patients don’t get the seamless, effective service they should when they leave hospital. They leave an environment in which they have been cared for around the clock to go home, sometimes alone, with no help.
“Too often they end up back in hospital because they haven’t had help readjusting to life at home. In fact, we’ve seen a 50% increase in the number of emergency readmissions in the 10 years from 1998. We need to do more to prevent this from happening.”
NHS Confederation acting chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “Patients want care that moves them seamlessly from initial complaint to treatment and then aftercare so the department is right to highlight the importance of getting people back up on their feet and out of hospital.”
However, he highlighted that directing the NHS to spend in particular ways was not consistent with Mr Lansley’s plans to give up and devolve decision making, and focus on outcomes.
Mr Edwards said: “We would, however, be surprised to see more of this type of announcement of small amounts of NHS funds being allocated from the centre as it seems to run counter to the entire direction of government health policy.”
King’s Fund chief executive Chris Ham welcomed the announcement. He said in a statement it “indicates a welcome commitment to improving patient care by integrating health and social care services”.
He said: “The additional funding will help NHS services and local authorities support people to retain independence in their own home and avoid costly readmissions to hospital. It also paves the way for changes next year that will see hospitals responsible for the first 30 days of care post discharge.
“Although the NHS will receive a small real terms funding increase in the spending review, it will still need to deliver significant productivity savings, while social care budgets are likely to be subject to significant cuts.
“Given the severe pressure on health and social care budgets over the next few years, it will be essential that the NHS and local authorities work together to pool resources and align services. The re-ablement fund is an important first step in supporting integration.”