NHS to receive billions in Autumn Budget to reduce Covid backlog

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The money for the NHS in the Budget will help to tackle record waiting lists following the Covid pandemic - iStockphoto
The money for the NHS in the Budget will help to tackle record waiting lists following the Covid pandemic - iStockphoto

The NHS is to get a £6 billion Budget boost for operations and screening in a bid to reduce record backlogs, Rishi Sunak will announce this week.

The Chancellor will set out the extra capital funding on Wednesday to provide nine million more tests, scans and operations by 2024/25 for patients requiring treatment for hip and knee replacements, cataracts, hernias and other non-emergency conditions.

It comes amid warnings from doctors that backlogs of 5.7 million patients waiting for non-emergency treatments are “dangerously close” to crippling the NHS.

The money will increase the amount of elective surgery and checks by nearly a third on pre-pandemic levels, and more than double the number of “one-stop shop” diagnostic centres.

It will also create dozens of new surgical hubs with operating theatres in hospitals and improve digital technology to free up staff to treat patients, rather than being tied up with paperwork.

It comes as Mr Sunak suggested that the Budget will see an end to the public sector pay freeze, meaning potential salary increases for 2.6 million workers including teachers, police and civil servants.

The Chancellor said on Sunday that he would set out a “new pay policy” in the Budget after imposing a freeze last November, with only NHS staff and public servants earning less than £24,000 being exempt.

‘We are committed to getting health services back on track’

He said "strong investment in public services" would be at the heart of his plans for rebuilding the economy when he sets out his Budget.

The extra £5.9 billion for the NHS comes on top of £9 billion announced in September. It is feared that without additional funding to clear the backlog, the money raised through a 1.25 per cent hike in National Insurance will never reach its intended target of social care.

Mr Sunak said: “We are committed to getting health services back on track and ensuring no one is left waiting for vital tests or treatment.

“This is a game-changing investment in the NHS to make sure we have the right buildings, equipment and systems to get patients the help they need and make sure the NHS is fit for the future.”

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said: “This £6 billion investment will support the delivery of millions more checks, scans and procedures for patients across the country.

“Business as usual won’t be enough. That’s why we are going to reform care with more community diagnostic centres, new surgical hubs and the latest technology to help recover NHS services by tackling waiting lists.”

Waiting lists rise at rate of 100,000 per month

The waiting list for non-emergency treatment has been rising at a rate of 100,000 per month, up from under four million at the start of the pandemic to more than 5.7 million today.

The number waiting more than 12 months nearly trebled to 292,138 in August, up from 111,026 at the same point last year. That prompted warnings from the British Medical Association that the “immense backlog of care is dangerously close to crippling our health service”.

Some £2.3 billion of the new funding is to help establish at least 100 community diagnostic centres across England, including 44 which have already been announced. These centres are expected to help clear most existing test backlogs caused by the pandemic, including for CT, MRI and ultrasound scans, by the end of the parliament.

The Treasury said the additional capacity would also ensure the resilience of the country's diagnostic services in the years to come.

Some £1.5 billion of the £5.9 billion will pay for increased bed capacity, equipment and new surgical hubs to tackle waiting times for elective surgery. Each hub will be equipped with four or five surgical theatres.

£2.1 billion will be invested in technology and data in a bid to improve efficiency and security within the NHS. The new and improved IT will give NHS staff access to the fastest broadband, while digital patient records will ensure patients get the best care wherever they are.

It was also reported on Sunday night that a package of nearly £2billion for building tens of thousands of new homes on brownfield land will be announced in Wednesday's Budget.

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