At least £10 billion needed to clear treatment backlog in NHS, union warns

By Tess de la Mare, PA
·4-min read

More than £10 billion in extra NHS funding is needed just to tackle the growing backlog in care caused by the pandemic, according to the British Medical Association.

The BMA, the union representing doctors in the UK, has called for the Chancellor to commit to both short-term and long-term spending increases to help the health service recover from the crisis.

Rishi Sunak said this weekend £3 billion has been earmarked for the NHS in the spending review due to be unveiled on Wednesday.

But he warned the nation is experiencing an “economic shock” that must be paid for somehow.

The BMA urged Mr Sunak not to break a promise made in March to give the NHS whatever it needed to get through the pandemic.

The Chancellor said at the time: “I can say absolutely categorically the NHS will get whatever resources it needs to get us through this and to respond to the health crisis.”

According to the union’s analysis, there were 14.6 million fewer outpatient attendances than expected since the beginning of the pandemic, which could cost up to £1.7 billion to work through.

It found there were 2.2.million fewer elective treatments, which will cost an estimated £9 billion to clear.

It said the problem is only likely to get worse this winter as more treatments are cancelled during Covid-19’s second wave.

The BMA said the pandemic has placed “unprecedented pressure” on a health system that was already stretched and underfunded.

In addition to the £10 billion, the BMA is calling for:

-An annual real-terms increase in health spending of at least 4.1%, taking the total to £164.9 billion by 2023/24 compared to £140.4 billion in 2019/20 – a £9 billion rise on pre-Covid planned spending.

– £6.5 billion to modernise and expand NHS trust facilities and GP practices, and to and help make them Covid-secure.

– £4.2 billion to modernise IT infrastructure across the NHS.

– £3.5 billion to fund 7,500 extra medical school places by 2023/24

– An increase of £1 billion to the public health grant – funding to local authorities to improve community health  – plus additional funding to bring the grant up to £4.5 billion by 2023/24.

– An extra £12.2bn for social care by 2023/24.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “The Covid pandemic has shone a piercing light on what happens when a system already pushed to its limits by years of under-resourcing faces a new crisis.”

He added: “The Chancellor this week has a golden opportunity to make good on his word, and begin to undo the damage wrought by the failure to invest in the nation’s health – none of us can afford for him to waste it.”

The Treasury said on Saturday that £1 billion of the £3 billion promised by the Chancellor will go towards cutting backlogs.

It said “hundreds of millions” would go toward mental health services following a rise in demand during the pandemic, while £325 million will go towards upgrading  diagnostic equipment.

Mr Sunak said: “This substantial package of extra funding will help people receive the medical care they need as soon as possible.”

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the funding would help the NHS carry out up to one million extra checks, scans and additional operations.

But the BMA said the £3 billion promised so far fell “far short of what is needed given the crisis we are in”.

Dr Nagpaul said: “The BMA has set out clear proposals for what it will take to protect the NHS in the upcoming Spending Review.

“If the chancellor’s plans fall short of this then we will be calling on the Government to urgently change course.”

Elsewhere, the NHS Confederation – a membership organisation of various NHS service providers – welcomed the £3 billion announcement but said it would be the “bare minimum” needed.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “While the NHS will do everything it can in these unprecedented times, if £3 billion is to be the extent of the additional investment for next year then the Government will need to manage expectations and ensure patients understand their care could be disrupted.”