Ministers across government are focusing on attempting to cut the rate of delayed transfers of care in a renewed effort to improve accident and emergency performance ahead of the general election.
HSJ understands that the weekly “Monday meetings” between health secretary Jeremy Hunt and the leaders of national organisations, which previously had a strong emphasis on A&E, have expanded to include communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles and minister for government policy Oliver Letwin.
Several senior sources with knowledge of the meetings have told HSJ that they have been running in their new form since the beginning of the year. The meetings are understood to address whole system improvement in the context of A&E performance, with delayed transfers as a significant area of focus.
The involvement of three senior cabinet members demonstrates that delayed transfers are now considered at the highest levels of government to be one of the most significant operational challenges the NHS faces.
Data published by NHS England shows that in December delayed discharges were at their highest ever level. The total delayed days over the previous 12 months had risen every month since July 2013.
The new meetings have resulted in new requests for information from NHS commissioners, and have featured input from systems, such as Luton, with relatively low delayed transfer rates. It aims to spread successful working methods across the system quickly.
In recent weeks CCGs have been asked to inform the meeting about how many vacant community beds exist in their local systems, and whether the local A&E units had GPs working in them.
The meetings have also resulted in new resources being made available. This month £25m of Department of Health funding was devolved to councils to spend on re-ablement or intermediate care packages.
The money went to the 65 local authorities with the largest rate of delayed transfers attributable to social care - although nationally NHS organisations are responsible for most of the rise, and the gap is widening. The £25m has to be spent in the next three months.
HSJ understands there could be further tranches of one-off, short term funding. An additional £10m has been made available to support home based care.