New operating theatres and expanded wards to ease NHS winter pressures

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Nurses work on patients in the Intensive Care Unit in St George’s Hospital (PA) (PA Archive)

Expanded hospital wards and new operating theatres will help the NHS with additional pressures over the winter, ministers have announced.

Funds are being released to hospitals across England to help them combat winter challenges while reducing the backlog of care built up over the pandemic.

The news comes as the Government is expected to publish a document on Friday setting out the key challenges facing NHS and social care services this winter.

We’re taking unprecedented steps to keep people healthy this winter

Sajid Javid

The document will also detail the challenges posed by Covid-19 and the potential threat of new variants.

It will also inform the public what they can “expect from health and care services this year”, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

Around £700 million is being released to NHS organisations across the country for upgrading wards, operating theatres and diagnostic kits.

The money will fund projects including additional day surgery units, extra operating theatres and surgical hubs, increasing space for patients who do not need to be admitted, and new or upgraded imaging equipment including MRI scanners and mobile breast screening units.

The cash, which is being drawn from £5.4 billion already announced to support the NHS response to the pandemic, will also help create more inpatient beds, more specialist intensive treatment unit beds and a “modular ward”.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

In total, 785 schemes have been approved, the department said.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Ahead of what is going to be a difficult winter, we’re putting everything behind our health and care services, so everyone can access the services they need, when they need them.

“Our £700 million investment will help more people get treated over the coming months by upgrading wards, operating theatres and diagnostic kit.

“We’re taking unprecedented steps to keep people healthy this winter, putting the booster rollout on steroids, and delivering the largest flu vaccine programme in UK history.

“We can all play our part in the national mission – when you get the call, please get the jab.”

The announcement comes as the public are being urged to help ease winter pressures by getting their Covid-19 and flu jabs, and contacting 111 if they need urgent medical advice.

Sajid Javid (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Professor Stephen Powis national medical director for NHS England, said: “NHS staff have pulled out all the stops since the beginning of the pandemic, treating more than half a million Covid patients, while continuing to perform millions of checks, tests and treatments for non-Covid reasons.

“There is no doubt that this winter is going to be tough, with staff contending with the highest ever number of 999 calls in October, and it remains as important as ever that people do not delay seeking help from the NHS if they feel unwell.

“So anyone needing help should come forward through NHS 111 Online so that staff can help you with the best option for your care, and the NHS is accelerating our Covid booster campaign, so please accept your invite when asked, as well taking up the offer of a flu jab to protect you this winter.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “This is much-needed funding, which is part of the previously agreed health budget and is a result of NHS organisations making thorough plans to spend it well. Health leaders will use it to help to secure care over what promises to be a difficult winter.

“Our members – who plan, commission and provide services – are already doing everything they can to meet the needs of patients, including working in new and innovative ways.

“The funding announced by the Health Secretary will help them do more, including investing in new and refurbished facilities and digital improvements.

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“While this investment is important, the challenges facing the health services over the coming months will be intense, particularly with the unknowns around the Omicron variant and the enormous commitments of the booster campaign.

“NHS leaders are eagerly awaiting the national guidance on how their teams will be expected to support the booster programme this winter.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “NHS waiting lists were at a record high before we went into the pandemic and they now stand at almost six million. We were promised a plan to bring them down and it is now crystal clear that the Government doesn’t have one.

“Today’s announcement says absolutely nothing about how the Government will deal with the chronic shortage of GPs, doctors, nurses and social care staff. Without a serious workforce strategy, millions of people will continue to wait in pain for months on end for their treatment because there simply aren’t the people we need to treat them.”

The funding allocations are separate from the Elective Recovery Plan, which will show how the NHS will tackle the record backlog of care built up throughout the pandemic.

The plan was due to be published before the end of November but was delayed due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

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