The Royal Voluntary Service, the British Red Cross and Age UK have offered to provide support to 29 of the country’s most pressured accident and emergency departments as part of a plan submitted to the government today.
The charities have asked for grants of £500,000 each for working in the departments over a 12-week trial period, during which they would support elderly people, prevent unnecessary admissions and assist hospital teams in discharging patients on time.
In a letter to Oliver Letwin, policy minister in the Cabinet Office, Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, which is representing the charities in their proposal, said that they should be allowed to project-manage the increased activity in each hospital, working in partnership with each other and local charities to deliver services.
He said that charity interventions could result in a return on investment of £4 for every £1 invested by the government.
"Charity interventions, which help speed hospital discharge and reduce admissions and readmission, typically cost significantly less than the cost of a night in hospital, and these savings are even more significant if our interventions prevent the cancellation of elective surgery by freeing up bed capacity," he wrote. "We would welcome further discussion that takes these ideas forward beyond the next 12 weeks."
The charities were asked to outline exactly how they could help after a meeting held last week with Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, and Una O’Brien, permanent secretary at the Department of Health.
The charities have suggested grants of £500,000, but believe there should be further investment from the government if the framework was to be rolled out more widely and over a more extended period.
Bubb said the NHS had been reluctant to recognise the role the third sector played in healthcare and that setting up a third sector NHS "taskforce" would represent a good legacy for the 12-week trial period.
"Third sector organisations are often underestimated by the establishment, but this is an great example of local and national charities working together to deliver the best for their beneficiaries and help the NHS manage long-term demand," Bubb told Third Sector. "Acevo is proud to play a convening role on behalf of the third sector in this national call to action, and we're working hard to get the message out to a wide audience."
It is understood that local NHS organisations are responsible for considering the level of involvement of charity sector services in their area.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said in a statement: "This is not new – charities have always worked with hospitals and health organisations to provide support to people, in addition to the principal care offered by the NHS itself.
"A&E services are and will always be run and staffed by NHS doctors, nurses and medics, and we've given a record £700m this winter to ensure there are even more qualified staff than ever before."
The Cabinet Office and a consortium including NHS England has already been backing voluntary organisations and volunteers who work in hospitals over the winter period. Groups such as the RVS have received a share of the £2m Reducing Winter Pressures Fund, which is funding seven pilot projects to keep older people healthy and help them recover more quickly from illness.