Almost no additional funding for Covid costs after 2024, think tank warns

·4-min read

Government plans for health spending show “almost no additional funding” for the NHS to deal with the longer-term demands of coronavirus past 2024, an economic think tank has warned.

Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that investment into the health service to help deal with coronavirus over the next two years was at the right level, matching their estimates of what would be required.

But it said that £5 billion not included in the Government’s announcements on health and social care will be needed in 2024/25 to cope with pandemic-related pressures.

After removing social care funding, the IFS said there would be around £9 billion of additional funding for the NHS in 2022/23, and £7 billion in 2023/24, which was estimated to be enough deal with the Covid-related pressures for the next two years.

NHS waiting lists protest
People take part in a protest outside Parliament in central London, calling on the government to tackle NHS waiting lists (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

But their report said “this new funding announcement is far less likely to be sufficient in the medium-term” as “new plans allow for little or no long-term additional costs as a result of the pandemic” from 2024/25.

Although the think tank said direct costs such as treating patients with Covid-19 and long Covid, Test and Trace, vaccinations, PPE and other infection control measures would likely fall away, the indirect costs and pressures would be “greater and more persistent”.

The IFS report said: “Millions of people missed out on NHS care during the pandemic.

“Much of this care will need to be delivered eventually and waiting lists are likely to rise rapidly as these ‘missing’ patients come forward.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned of growing NHS waiting lists and on Thursday the number of people in England waiting for hospital treatment reached a new record high.

A total of 5.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of July, according to new figures from NHS England.

The Government said in its first three years the bulk of £36 billion of funding announced for health and social care would pay for new treatments, diagnostic and surgical methods to help see more patients quickly and safely using tools such as surgical hubs, virtual wards and artificial intelligence.

But the IFS said that meeting the longer-term demands “would likely require additional funding, or large savings from elsewhere in the NHS budget”.

Social Care reforms
(left to right) Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson arriving at No 9 Downing Street for a media briefing on the long-awaited plan to fix the broken social care system (Toby Melville/PA)

Max Warner, a research economist at IFS and an author of the research, said: “The resources that the NHS will need to cope with pandemic-related pressures over the coming years is a huge known unknown.

“Based on our best estimates the funding announced by the Prime Minister this week should be enough to meet these pressures for the next two years.

“But the settlement seemingly allows for almost no additional virus-related spending in 2024–25, making it almost inevitable that these initial plans will be topped up down the line.”

For Labour, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Tory MPs are imposing an unfair, punishing and permanent tax rise on working people while failing to detail any credible long-term plan to bring the soaring waiting times back to the 18-week standard.

“NHS staff and experts continue to question whether the extra funding announced will be sufficient to deliver the quality care needed.

“Given ministers are forcing many patients and staff to pay more tax, the least they could do is explain when and how they plan to clear the backlog.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The pandemic has put enormous pressures on the NHS and caused waiting lists to grow but we are committed to ensuring people get the treatment they need.

“That’s why we have provided record investment to tackle the backlog and deliver an extra nine million checks, scans, and operations for patients across the country.

“This is on top of an additional £5.4 billion announced this week to support the NHS’ response to COVID-19 over the next 6 months, which will help discharge patients from hospital quickly and safely, and is in addition to our previous historic long-term settlement for the NHS, which will see funding increase by £33.9 billion by 2023-24, which we have enshrined in law.

“The NHS is deploying more efficient, innovative ways of working and the latest technology to deliver more appointments and treatments. This includes dedicated surgical hubs which will ramp up routine surgery.”

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