• Extra funding offered to help open more beds, outsource operations, or other interventions
  • Comes amid serious concerns about the NHS’ ability to cope with a surge in demand over winter

The health service is scrambling to provide additional funding to some hospitals to mitigate a crisis in emergency departments – despite the government not providing a formal “winter fund” this year – HSJ has learned.

HSJ has spoken to senior NHS sources in several regions who said extra funding was being offered to help open more beds, free up capacity by outsourcing elective operations to the private sector, and other potential rapid interventions. In some cases capital funding is also available, for example to try to open new units, clinics or beds.

Multiple trusts in different regions have been asked to put forward suggestions and make the case for money. Requests are being made this week with very short turnaround deadlines - one trust reported they were asked on Wednesday to bid by the middle of Thursday.

It comes amid serious concerns about the NHS’ ability to cope with a surge in demand over the next few months. October’s performance figures against the four-hour emergency target, published yesterday, were the worst monthly figures on record.

In previous years there has typically been pot of winter pressures funding announced by the government – sometimes up to £700m - with money distributed widely among acute providers.

The government has not done so this year – and the money of offer, thought to be a smaller amount, appears to be on an ad-hoc basis, targeted at providers that can use the resources most effectively.

The purdah period leading up to the general election on 12 December would now be likely to prevent any national announcement of a fund.

Some consider that the government having to announce additional winter funding would have been embarrassing – acknowledging the crisis, and given the NHS is just seven months into a new five-year funding settlement, which provides real terms growth of 3.6 per cent this year.

Some local leaders told HSJ that while they were always grateful for extra funding, there was frustration that it was not made available in a more planned way, and earlier in the year. 

National NHS leaders have previously tried to remove dedicated winter funding, and channel any spare cash into planned commissioning allocations.

But this has proved difficult in recent years. Around £335m was made available in 2017, and last year £145m of capital funding was brought forward and £240m of last minute social care funding provided.

HSJ asked NHS England/Improvement and the Department of Health and Social Care how much money was available, and how the decisions around allocating the funding are being made, but did not receive a response.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Trust leaders tell us they know they are going to incur significant extra costs this winter and that they need as much financial support as possible to help with these unplanned costs.

“They are also saying that extra funding for primary and social care would help too. We all know that it would have been better to have received this funding earlier and in a more planned way. But, given current pressures, all extra money will be welcomed with open arms”.