Essential community healthcare services need more investment from the government as winter approaches, the Community Network has warned.
The network, which represents community healthcare services across England, said the services have been critical in preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, without greater investment and support from the government, their vital contribution is at risk as the NHS braces itself for a challenging winter including the possibility of a second wave of the disease.
The network is calling for investment in home-based community pathways as well as community rehabilitation beds to bolster capacity as it believes the next phase of the pandemic will see a significant number of COVID-19 patients needing long-term rehabilitative care.
Additionally, the network is urging the Department of Health and Social Care to help boost the community workforce with a national recruitment campaign and deploying more returners to their services before winter pressures hit.
Last month, the Prime Minister announced that £3bn will be given to the NHS to help it cope during what is expected to be a very difficult winter period, of which £500m will be allocated to support the discharge of patients from hospital and into the community.
However, the network believes that longer-term support and investment is needed in both community services and public health and social care, which have similarly experienced funding cuts that can impact on the sector.
Andrew Ridley, chair of the Community Network, which is run the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers said:
‘Over the past few months, community healthcare services have shown their value, flexibility and resilience by playing a critical role in preventing the NHS from becoming overwhelmed in the face of the greatest crisis of modern times.
‘This has been particularly remarkable given that community health services entered the pandemic under considerable pressure due to rising demand, workforce shortages and increasingly complex patient needs.
‘The cash injection announced recently by the government to support community healthcare services over winter was welcome but it is a sticking plaster for the longer term support and investment that this sector desperately needs.
‘Without additional funding, including for social care and public health, and the workforce to deliver its services, there is the real risk that discharge arrangements will be compromised and hospitals could become overwhelmed.
‘We need realism about what these services will be able to deliver safely in the next stage of the pandemic.
‘More broadly, the experiences of the pandemic must be used as a catalyst for change to reset how services are delivered and to reinvigorate the national ambition to provide more care closer to people’s own homes.’
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