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GPs set to care for patients ‘urgently’ discharged from hospital

Patients fit for discharge are to be moved out of hospital ‘urgently’ to free up beds in England, suggesting GPs will be left to care for them in the community.

NHS England said in a letter to GPs, hospital and community bosses yesterday that the move could release 15,000 acute beds for patients with coronavirus.

Patients already awaiting discharge or those who have been in hospital for over 21 days will be targeted.

Community health providers ‘must take immediate full responsibility’ for discharging eligible patients, said the letter, signed by NHS chief executive Simon Stevens.

Emergency legislation introduced this week will ensure patients requiring social care can be discharged without being held up by eligibility assessments.

Additional funding to pay for the care of patients being discharged is due to be released in financial guidance this week.

The letter said: ‘Community health providers must take immediate full responsibility for urgent discharge of all eligible patients identified by acute providers on a discharge list.

‘Trusts and CCGs will need to work with local authority partners to ensure that additional capacity is appropriately commissioned. This could potentially free up to 15,000 acute beds currently occupied by patients awaiting discharge or with lengths of stay over 21 days.’

It added: ‘Financial constraints must not and will not stand in the way of taking immediate and necessary action – whether in terms of staffing, facilities adaptation, equipment, patient discharge packages, staff training, elective care, or any other relevant category.’

Meanwhile, all NHS non-urgent elective operations are to be postponed for at least three months as part of plans to release a further 15,000 hospital beds across England for coronavirus patients.

NHS England’s letter said emergency admissions, cancer treatment and other clinically urgent care should continue unaffected.

But non-urgent operations will need to be delayed from 15 April ‘at the latest’.

The letter said NHS organisations will have ‘full local discretion’ over how to wind down elective procedures over the next month.

The approach is aimed at releasing staff for refresher training, creating beds for patients affected by Covid-19 and ensuring more capacity for theatres and recovery facilities.

Up until the postponement arrangements are in place, organisations should ‘continue to use all available capacity’ for elective operations ‘including the independent sector, before Covid constraints curtail such work,’ said the letter.

NHS England said it believed the measures could free up 12,000-15,000 hospital beds across England.

It is part of wider efforts announced today designed to release at least 30,000 general and acute hospital beds in the NHS in England, which is around a third of the total number.

The letter said: ‘Trusts are asked now to assume that you will need to postpone all non-urgent elective operations from 15th April at the latest, for a period of at least three months.

‘However you also have full local discretion to wind down elective activity over the next 30 days as you see best, so as to free up staff for refresher training, beds for Covid patients, and theatres/recovery facilities for adaptation work.

‘Emergency admissions, cancer treatment and other clinically urgent care should continue unaffected.’