A new NHS winter care package is set to be unveiled by the government to move patients stuck in hospital to care homes.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay will announce the changes this week, although the total amount of cash that will go towards the initiative is still being settled.
Senior government sources told the Sunday Times it would involve spending hundreds of millions of pounds on top of the £500m for social care announced in the autumn statement.
‘Transparency is good thing’ says Starmer about Sky News project – live politics updates
The plan, which Mr Barclay will announce on Monday, is understood to be aimed at block-buying up to 2,000 care home beds in Care Quality Commission-approved facilities over the next four weeks.
Patients who should be discharged from hospital but have been unable to as they need more care but have nowhere to go will then be moved to the care home beds.
The aim is to reduce NHS waiting lists and ambulance waiting times that have been exacerbated by beds being blocked by these types of patients, through no fault of their own.
There are currently about 13,000 patients stuck in NHS hospitals who do not need to be there.
As the government faces further strikes from NHS workers, including nurses later this month and possibly junior doctors in March, the health secretary has doubled down on insisting pay review bodies are the best way for public sector salaries to be decided.
For months, ministers have been saying salary negotiations are for the pay review bodies, made up of experts and staff from the relevant fields, to decide.
But unions have said ministers have the final say on whether to accept the recommendations and have also argued this year’s salaries were decided before inflation soared above 10%.
Mr Barclay is set to meet union leaders on Monday but the health secretary wants to focus on pay negotiations for 2023/24.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it will go ahead with its strikes on 18 and 19 January unless the last few months of this financial year are discussed.
Pat Cullen, head of the RCN, has urged ministers to meet nurses halfway on their demand for a 19% pay rise for this financial year.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak indicated to the BBC on Sunday only 2023/24’s pay is up for discussion.
Ms Cullen said she had a “chink of optimism” as she said she noticed a “little shift” in Mr Sunak’s stance.
Health Minister Maria Caulfield, who is also a cancer nurse, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme the talks on Monday will be about “both pay and conditions” after the government had previously said only a change in conditions was on the table.
Mr Barclay, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, said he recognises “inflation has made life tougher for the workforce”, which is why he is “so determined to talk about what we can do next year on pay”.
“Doing this work through the independent pay review bodies process is clearly the best way to do this, not least because spending each winter frozen in pay negotiations with the unions would take focus away from the other challenges the NHS faces,” he wrote.
The health secretary added that he is “ready to engage with the unions” and NHS staff could get a significant pay boost from April – if they accept radical reforms to improve productivity such as “virtual wards” at people’s homes.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We recognise the pressures the NHS is facing following the impact of the pandemic and are working tirelessly to ensure people get the care they need, backed by up to £14.1 billion additional funding for health and social care over the next two years.
“This winter, we’re providing £500m to speed up discharge and the NHS is creating the equivalent of 7,000 extra beds to boost capacity.
“We are continuing to consider all options to help urgently reduce delays in the discharge of medically fit patients from hospital. Further steps will be set out in due course.”
On Saturday, Mr Sunak held an emergency meeting with health leaders as he called for “bold and radical” action to alleviate the NHS’s winter crisis.
He said a “business-as-usual mindset won’t fix the challenges we face”.