Emergency Care Plan raises more questions

A new plan to rescue struggling NHS emergency services, pledging 800 ambulances, 5000 more hospital beds and bolstering community care has been launched by Rishi Sunak. Although the plan is to be supported by a £1bn fund, it has since been confirmed that this is not new funding, which has led to renewed calls for wider action on the staffing crisis and long term investment.

Follow-up analysis of one of the key parts of the plan – to raise NHS hospital bed capacity from its current level of 102,000 has clarified that it will only introduce 1000 new beds as the remaining 4000 represent existing beds which will be moved from other areas, such as top-up bays and corridors.

In fact hospital bed numbers have been falling for a decade, down by 12% since 2011, contributing to the recurrent blockages and delays in accident and emergency. Even if the new plan were to open 5000 new beds it would still only return the NHS to the number of available beds in 2010/11 (107,448).

Any new ambition to raise capacity has to first deal with how services will be staffed. and as Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England points out “extra beds are only safe when there are enough nurses for the patients in them. And because of the workforce crisis, existing services are unsafe.”

Without the workforce strategy – promised at least two Tory leaders ago, this plan lacks the power to raise capacity and make meaningful change. Professor Alison Leary, nurse and professor of healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank University told the Nursing Times ”It is hard to see how any meaningful recovery plan can be designed or implemented without the largest safety critical workforce in healthcare.”

Full story in The Lowdown, 8 February 2023