Clarity needed on use of £3bn winter funding

by Seamus Ward

17 July 2020

NHS organisations have welcomed the additional £3bn winter funding announced by the prime minister, but asked for more clarity on how the funds can be used.

Prime minister Boris Johnson (pictured) said the funding would be targeted at preventing a second wave of Covid-19 and helping ease winter pressures. The announcement comes after warnings over the winter ahead. A report for the UK chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said the country could see 120,000 Covid-related deaths this winter in a reasonable worst-case scenario, with a range of 24,500 to 251,000. To date, official figures show there have been around 45,000 deaths from Covid-19.Boris Johnson

Mr Johnson said the new funding would make sure the NHS is ready for the winter. The NHS would hold ‘the biggest flu vaccination programme’ in its history and, by the end of October, increase antigen testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day.

‘We will also, of course, give the NHS the resources it needs. I can confirm that we will be providing an additional £3bn of funding for the NHS in England to get ready for winter. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive additional funds. This will allow the NHS to continue to use the extra hospital capacity acquired from the independent sector and to maintain the Nightingale hospitals until the end of March. This new funding comes on top of the additional £30bn for health and social care that we have already announced this year.’

NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said: ‘Any financial support to prepare for and manage winter is welcome and this is never more the case than this year – the most challenging in the NHS history. Trusts are facing a triple whammy of pressures: winter itself, including the prospect of flu, the ongoing pandemic and possible second surge, and trying to recover their position and restart ‘usual services’ across the service. They are doing all of this in new and very challenging circumstances.’

She added; ‘Trust leaders will need urgent clarity about what this £3bn will cover and whether or not it is all new money. Nightingale hospitals and independent sector capacity is already in place, so while helpful, will maintain current capacity.’

However, she insisted that trusts needed more capacity to recover lost ground on waiting lists and to manage the additional demand over the winter. It was also unclear whether the money would be used to support mental health, community, rehab and ITU capacity. Social care would not be included, despite being in a critical condition, she added.

British Medical Association council chair Chaand Nagpaul (pictured) echoed her comments. ‘It’s vital that we’re given an understanding of how exactly this announced money will be used – and whether it is enough – to boost capacity both for a potential second wave, but also to meet the needs of millions of patients who have had care delayed during the pandemic.Chaand Nagpaul

The BMA recently estimated that up to 1.5 million fewer operations and treatments and around 2.5 million fewer outpatient appointments took place over the last three months compared to the average in the past two years.

‘We need a coherent strategy of how this backlog will be managed, as well as drawing on the lessons learned from the first peak. And while shoring up physical capacity is one aspect, there needs to be staff to keep services – both Covid and non-Covid – running, given that doctors and healthcare staff are exhausted and burnt out from dealing with the unprecedented demands of the last few months.’