Extra funding for NHS to help tackle backlog welcomed

By Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent
·6-min read

The Government has pledged more money to “get our country through coronavirus”.

The Chancellor said £3 billion will be provided to support NHS recovery – allowing the health service to carry out up to one million checks, scans and operations.

Rishi Sunak added £6 billion will be put towards research and procuring Covid-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, £15 billion will be made available in 2021/22 for the Test and Trace programme to support “enhanced testing capacity”, including regular testing of NHS staff and social care workers.

A total of £2.1 billion will continue to maintain and distribute stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE), and £163 million has been allocated for Covid medicines and therapeutics.

Data released earlier this month revealed the extent of the NHS backlog.

Across England, 139,545 people had waited more than 52 weeks to start treatment as of September this year – the highest number for any calendar month since September 2008.

The data from NHS England also showed 1.72 million people had waited more than 18 weeks to start treatment in September.

Charities have welcomed the funds for the NHS in England to help tackle backlogs in care.

Steven McIntosh, director of policy, campaigns and influence at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It is positive that the Government has listened to our concerns about the impact of disrupted and delayed diagnosis and treatment, and is investing additional funding in helping the NHS tackle the backlog.

“This will provide much needed emergency support to help services defuse the ticking time bomb of undiagnosed and untreated cancer.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “This Spending Review was a pivotal moment for the Government to back its ambitions to improve cancer survival, and today’s announcement is a step in the right direction. This investment will help to clear the backlog of millions of people waiting for cancer care and will begin to address major barriers to earlier diagnosis and treatment.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“Funding for some new diagnostic equipment is good news but much more will be needed. We’re particularly pleased that the Government has given the NHS additional money to train more staff, which is desperately needed but longer-term commitments to this will be vital.”

Nuffield Trust director of research and chief economist professor John Appleby said: “This additional funding comes as the NHS faces the most difficult time in its history.

“Although welcome it is not clear that this will be adequate to meet the enormous challenge ahead.

“Waiting lists will continue to grow as hospitals continue with time consuming infection prevention and control measures which significantly reduce the rate at which patients can be seen and treated.

“That will create real pressure, requiring extra staff and capacity which will need to be fully funded if the NHS isn’t going to spend the next decade running to catch up.”

NHS Providers’ chief executive Chris Hopson added: “This is a constructive response to the challenges the NHS faces, given the overall public expenditure pressures.

“We welcome the extra £3 billion of new money that will start to tackle the mounting planned care backlogs, provide extra mental health capacity to help address unprecedented levels of demand and extra capital for the new hospital building programme.

“What we don’t know yet is whether it will be enough.

“It’s impossible to work out what the total additional funding needs associated with Covid-19 might be for next year.

“The Government should therefore continue to honour its promise to give the NHS whatever it needs to continue to manage the impact of the pandemic.”

Pascale Robinson, of the campaign body We Own It, said: “Rishi Sunak has announced billions of pounds for testing, PPE and vaccines in the Spending Review. Now we need to see the detail.

“After the shocking scandals over the disastrous procurement of PPE and the mismanagement of Test and Trace, the Government must be investing in a public sector response, not funnelling yet more cash to their mates in the private sector.

“Moreover, pumping money into testing is important, but so too is contact tracing.

“We all know how vital contact tracing is to get a grip on this crisis, and yet we’ve seen how poorly handled it has been by private companies like Serco in England.

“The Government should now be investing properly in a properly functioning contact tracing system, led by local public health teams.

“That’s crucial to get us safely through the woods on this pandemic.”

Charities also welcomed more mental health funding.

Samaritans chief executive Julie Bentley said: “The profound and devastating impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health has been clear to see.

“With the prolonged isolation and ongoing uncertainty, we know that many people have been struggling during these very challenging times.

“Samaritans therefore welcomes the Government’s announcement today to help ensure more people have access to mental health support in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a step in the right direction and suicide prevention must form a central part of government plans around mental health and wellbeing.”

Lucy Thorpe, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation added: “Extra spending on services is very welcome.

“However, better funding is also needed for the preventive mental health work in our communities that can stop people reaching the point of crisis especially as we repair our society after the pandemic.”

However, some raised concerns the additional money was not enough.

Anita Charlesworth from the Health Foundation said: “The Government’s commitment to ensuring the NHS receives the funding it needs to meet the direct costs of Covid-19 is welcome.

“The Chancellor also recognised the major challenges of waiting times and increased demand for mental health services as a result of the pandemic.

“But the funding announced doesn’t match the scale of the challenge. The Spending Review doesn’t provide enough next year to give hospitals the resources they need to meet the challenges of delivering care in the face of social distancing and heightened infection control. As a result, there will be a total shortfall for NHS England of around £6 billion next year.”

And Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of council at the British Medical Association, said: “Today was a golden opportunity for the Chancellor to make good on his word to give the NHS whatever it needs to tackle the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on our health service, its staff and patients. However, given the scale of the task at hand, today’s announcements are unlikely to be enough to address the urgent health needs of our nation.”