All plans for access to the government's pooled health and social care fund are now with the Department of Health, and will undergo a comprehensive vetting process to ensure they are fit for purpose in time for when the cash is released next year, officials have confirmed to PharmaTimes.
Health and Wellbeing Boards across England have now submitted proposals from 152 local authorities for access to the Better Care Fund (BCF), which is essentially designed to help patients get joined up care closer to home, thus reducing hospital admissions and saving much-needed resources.
From April next year, those plans that have made it through the assurance process - including checking the level of provider, patient and public engagement, governance arrangements, contingency plans, and whether they bring patient benefit and meet commissioning and financial objectives - will be able to access a pot of cash that will be at least £3.8 billion.
The BCF has been hit by a barrage of recent criticism, with concerns that there is little evidence to suggest that the initiative will meet its objectives.
The Guardian last week cited an un-named Whitehall source as saying that the Cabinet Office believes claims for the Better Care Fund "did not stack up" and that it wants "a lot more work done on the policy".
It also reportedly "learned that the Cabinet Office review found that plans to save money from local hospital budgets by moving care elsewhere lacked financial credibility, with little or no detail about how savings would be delivered".
But speaking to PharmaTimes, a DH spokeswoman insisted that, despite unsubstantiated reports of delays, the Fund remains on track to 'go live' next year as scheduled and has strong support from all factions of health care.
The DH, she stressed, has solid evidence of the benefits of the scheme from its 'integration pioneers', launched last year to test the potential of marrying certain social and health care elements.
For example, a Joint Emergency Team at Greenwich - consisting of nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and physiotherapists - responding to care emergencies were able to avoid over 2,000 hospital admissions, with over £1 million saved from the social care budget, and there are no longer any delayed discharges for patients over 65, she noted.