£3.5bn-a-year boost for primary and community health teams

Health teams working in the community are to get a multibillion-pound funding boost in a bid to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions, the Prime Minister has announced.

Theresa May visited a health centre in north London on Thursday morning after pledging £3.5 billion a year in new real-terms funding for primary and community healthcare by 2023/24 as part of the forthcoming NHS long-term plan.

It is hoped the boost will mean more patients are treated at home and in the community rather than being admitted to hospital.

Mrs May said leaving the EU means Britain will no longer be sending “vast sums” of money to Brussels, and will have more money for “domestic priorities like our NHS”.

Theresa May during a visit to Kentish Town Health Centre
Theresa May during a visit to Kentish Town Health Centre

Downing Street said the money represents a “historic commitment” to ensure a growing share of NHS spending is put into primary and community care.

Part of the money will be spent on community-based rapid response teams. These 24/7 teams – made up of doctors, nurses and physiotherapists – can provide urgent care in the community as an alternative to hospital.

As well as emergency care, they can also help patients recover closer to home.

Alongside Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, the PM met one team based at Kentish Town Health Centre.

Theresa May is joined by Matt Hancock and local health officials
Theresa May is joined by Matt Hancock and local health officials

She spoke with doctors, nurses and paramedics about the way the teams operate, and heard how they helped one terminally ill patient fulfil her wish to die in her own home rather than be admitted to hospital.

Mrs May said: “I’m sure she would have felt much more comfortable at home, and I’m sure her family were much happier with that too.”

The PM later dropped in on a parent and baby class and confessed to “screaming and screaming” when she got her injections as a child.

Sitting on the floor and chatting to one parent about having their baby’s jabs, she said: “I have a vague memory of being in my mother’s arms and just screaming.”

Meanwhile, there will be a national rollout of dedicated support for care home residents.

A successful pilot saw healthcare workers including GPs assigned to care homes, where they get to know individual residents’ needs and provided tailored treatment.

Speaking ahead of the visit, Mrs May said: “Too often people end up in hospital not because it’s the best place to meet their needs but because the support that would allow them to be treated or recover in their own home just isn’t available.

“Many of us might assume that hospital is the safest place to be – but in reality many patients would be much better off being cared for in the community.

“The longer a patient stays in hospital, the more it costs the NHS and the more pressure is put on its hardworking staff. This needs to change.

“That’s why I’m announcing a major boost in funding for community healthcare, which will give more patients a genuine and high-quality alternative to hospital.

“The new approach we’re setting out today will mean more people can leave hospital quicker or avoid being admitted in the first place, which is better for patients and better for the health service.

“Leaving the EU means taking back control of our money as we will no longer be sending vast sums to Brussels.

“This helps our public finances and means we have more money to spend on domestic priorities like our NHS. And we’ve been able to fully fund this historic commitment without raising taxes.”

Mr Hancock added: “GPs are the bedrock of the NHS.

“To make the NHS sustainable for the long term we need more prevention as well as cure. So we will back our GPs, primary and community healthcare to help keep people healthy and out of hospital in the first place.

“Every patient deserves to receive care tailored to their needs. Yet too often our hospitals become the only place to turn for older people, often to the detriment of their health – but no longer.”

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “Everyone can see that to future-proof the NHS we need to radically redesign how primary and community health services work together.

“For community health services this means quick response to help people who don’t need to be in hospital, as well as dissolving the 70-year-old boundary between GP practices and community nursing.

“But to will the end is to will the means. That’s why – as part of the NHS long-term plan – for the first time we’re going to guarantee that these services get a growing share of the growing NHS budget.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Any investment in patient care in the community is welcome, and it’s essential that general practice specifically is at the heart of these plans and a key recipient of this new funding.

“The Prime Minister’s announcement demonstrates recognition at the highest levels that a strong general practice service is central to the long-term sustainability of the NHS and patient care.

“It is an important step forward to meeting our calls for our service to receive 11% of the overall NHS England budget as part of the forthcoming NHS long-term plan.”