• Acute and community trusts allocated £1.3bn
  • Councils allocated £1.6bn
  • Funding to support freeing up 15,000 beds by end of month

Over a fifth of the £5bn given to the NHS to cope with the coronavirus crisis will be spent on increasing the rate of hospital discharge in an effort to free up around 15,000 hospital beds.

The Department of Health and Social Care said £1.3bn would be used to “enhance the NHS discharge process” for medically fit patients. A further £1.6bn of funding would be made available for councils to respond to covid-19 pressures, including supporting adult social care.

A DHSC statement said: “We expect the implementation of the enhanced discharge service will help to free up at least 15,000 hospital beds by 27 March.”

The announcement followed NHS England setting out an ambition on Tuesday to free up 30,000 beds — nearly a third of the 98,000 hospital beds in England. The NHSE guidance said 12,000 to 15,000 beds would be cleared by suspending elective procedures for three months.

NHSE also said acute trusts are to discharge all inpatients who are “medically fit to leave”, with community health providers taking “full responsibility” for all patients on acute trust discharge lists.

A DHSC statement continued: “£2.9bn is being made available to support the vulnerable during the covid-19 outbreak while freeing up more than 15,000 beds by helping patients no longer in need of treatment to return home safely and quickly. 

“The funding will cover the follow-on care costs for adults in social care, or people in need of additional support, when they are out of hospital and back in their homes, community settings, or care settings.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Our NHS and social care colleagues are at the heart of protecting the most vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak, and the whole country is tremendously grateful for their commitment during this challenging time.

“This funding will help the NHS and social care services in our communities to rise to this once in a generation challenge by allowing the NHS to do what it needs to, and help move people out of hospital as soon as possible to get them back home with the right support.”

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “It is good to see that the government has listened to concerns that there needs to be a clear and quick path out of hospitals into social care or back home for those patients who are medically fit, to ensure that capacity is cleared where appropriate.

“This is helpful when combined with the announcement that elective operations will be postponed to free up beds, space and staff so that those with the virus can be prioritised. The NHS is doing everything it can to prepare to handle an increase in demand due to the virus.”

David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, said: “The majority of this [local government] funding is earmarked for the impact on adult social care services.”

Councillor Williams added: “County areas are home to the largest populations of elderly people, with complex and rural geographies, while care markets in county areas remain some of the most fragile in the country, and every effort must be made to ensure provider failure does not occur.

“Therefore the councils in those places need a fair allocation of these resources, with it distributed based on an area’s relative need.

“The further funding to support hospital discharges must contain the flexibility for councils to work with health partners to target resources and adapt to each area’s own circumstances to free up beds as quickly as possible.”