POLITICS
06/09/2021 17:52 BST | Updated 06/09/2021 17:58 BST

NHS Gets £5.4bn Extra Cash To Cope With Winter Pressures

Sajid Javid delivers new money to help ease backlog caused by Covid

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A waiting list protest outside Parliament

The NHS is to get £5.5bn extra to cope with winter pressures, Sajid Javid has announced.

The new money is aimed at tackling the huge backlog of delayed operations and treatments caused by the Covid pandemic.

The stop-gap funding, which has been sought by NHS chiefs for months, is separate from the £10bn a year cash boost expected from April next year.

The figure includes an extra £1 billion to help tackle the COVID-19 backlog, £2.8 billion to cover related costs such as enhanced infection control measures to keep staff and patients safe from the virus and £478 million to continue the hospital discharge programme, freeing up beds.

The additional £5.4 billion brings the government’s total investment to health services for Covid so far this year to over £34 billion, with £2 billion in total for the NHS to tackle the elective backlog.

Ambulance services have been under particular pressure this summer, and many hospitals have had fewer beds because of the need to reserve space for social distancing and Covid wards.

Waiting lists have hit record levels during the pandemic. 

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: “The NHS has been phenomenal as it has faced one of the biggest challenges in its history.

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Sajid Javid

“We know waiting lists will get worse before they get better as people come forward for help, and I want to reassure you the NHS is open, and we are doing what we can to support the NHS to deliver routine operations and treatment to patients across the country.”

NHS chiefs have privately complained that they are given emergency funding at the last minute.

Earlier this year the department of health and social care only approved cash for the first half of the financial year with days to spare.

Trusts didn’t know their budgets for the second half of the year from October onwards, and many will welcome the change to plan for staffing hires as well as services.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “This funding provides welcome certainty for the NHS, which has pulled out all the stops to restore services, while caring for thousands of seriously ill Covid patients requiring hospital treatment during the toughest summer on record. 

“This additional investment will enable the NHS to deliver more checks, scans and procedures as well as helping to deal with the ongoing costs and pressures of the pandemic as the NHS heads in to winter.”

Boris Johnson added: “The NHS was there for us during the pandemic - but treating Covid patients has created huge backlogs.

“This funding will go straight to the frontline, to provide more patients with the treatments they need but aren’t getting quickly enough. We will continue to make sure our NHS has what it needs.”

Some £478 million of the new funding has been dedicated to continue the hospital discharge programme so staff can ensure patients leave hospital as quickly and as safely as possible, with the right community or at-home support.

Labour has revealed figures showing that patients are routinely waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment.

People waiting for specific surgeries or treatments such as oral surgery, ear nose and throat surgery or ophthalmology could be expected to wait for this length of time in 83 hospitals across England.

The party said at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust patients have an average wait of 22 weeks for trauma and orthopaedic surgery, while in Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust the average wait for ophthalmology is 19.2 weeks.

The government says it will free up thousands of extra beds and staff time to help the NHS recover services.

It has also invested £500 million in capital funding for extra theatre capacity and productivity-boosting technology, to increase the number of surgeries able to take place.

But clearing the NHS backlog could cost almost £17 billion, an independent health charity has said.

The Health Foundation said coronavirus “will cast a long shadow over the NHS for many years to come”, and warned better staffing levels will be needed, as well as investment.

It estimates it will cost up to £16.8 billion over the remainder of this parliament, to clear the backlog and return to the 18-week waiting time standard.