I am pleased to inform the House today that we are spending an additional £240 million to support health and care services over winter.
We know that winter is the most challenging time for the NHS and our preparations began very early. In January we published the Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, which aims to deliver one of the fastest and longest sustained improvements in waiting times in the NHS's history. This includes delivering an additional 5,000 permanent staffed hospital beds this winter, backed by £1 billion of dedicated capacity funding. We have seen progress, including a marked improvement in ambulance response times compared to last year. Innovations such as virtual wards have been put in place towards a target of 10,000 before winter, and money allocated to successful capital schemes build on the progress made in implementing ambulance hubs and discharge facilities.
More widely, we have already made available up to £14.1 billion available for health and social care over this year and next, including £7.5 billion to support Adult Social Care and discharge – the biggest funding increase in history – and £3.3 billion in each of 2023-24 and 2024-25 to support the NHS in England, and enable rapid action to improve urgent and emergency, elective, and primary care performance to pre-pandemic levels.
This follows the £38.9 billion cash increase by 2024-25 (as compared to 2019-20) confirmed at Spending Review 2021, to help place the NHS in England on a sustainable footing and tackle the elective backlog.
The pandemic has put enormous pressures on the NHS with elective waiting lists growing, but we remain committed to ensuring people get the right care at the right time. That is why we are delivering record staffing numbers, and putting in record levels of funding, to help the NHS recover and transform services.
In February 2022, NHS England published its delivery plan for tackling the Covid-19 backlog of elective care. This set out a clear vision for how the NHS will recover and expand elective care and cancer services in the next three years.
There is a new COVID 19 variant - BA.2.86. While we do not yet know if it will be a variant of concern, as a precautionary measure we have brought forward the autumn vaccine programme for COVID and flu, which will deliver greater protection, supporting those at greatest risk of severe illness and reducing the potential impact on the NHS.
As we move toward the winter period I am pleased to be able to report that there are record numbers of staff working across NHS trusts and integrated care boards, over 63,000 compared to more than a year ago, including over 6,000 more doctors. We are currently on track to meet the 50,000 nurses manifesto commitment, with nursing numbers over 45,000 higher in June than they were in September 2019.
Thanks to the hard work of all those NHS staff, we met our target to eliminate long waits of two years or more for elective procedures in July 2022 and virtually eliminated 18-month waits in June 2023. The new investment of £200 million will help ensure NHS trusts can keep up this vital work over winter as we look to mitigate the impact of ongoing industrial action.
I would also like to provide a further update on the allocation of an additional £40 million to improve social care provision, £30 million of which forms part of the social care workforce package of £600 million over two years announced on 28 July. This will allow local authorities to strengthen admissions avoidance services and boost discharge rates this winter. The funding is being targeted at areas facing the greatest urgent and emergency care challenges.
The funding announced today will be vital for the NHS, and wider health and care sector, through its most demanding period and will help the health service drive forward our plans to cut waiting lists and deliver for patients.