Health chiefs have warned they are facing “impossible choices” after the funding boost announced for the NHS leaves a significant “shortfall”, meaning waiting lists and delays are here to stay.
Boris Johnson told MPs on Tuesday that the Government must help the NHS “recover” from Covid-19, but he warned that the NHS waiting lists would “get worse before they get better”.
The health service faces a record backlog of 5.5 million people, while an estimated seven million patients in England did not come forward for treatment during the pandemic.
The Prime Minister told MPs they were launching the “biggest catch-up programme in NHS history” with an aim to be treating 30 per cent more elective patients by 2024-25 than before pre-Covid.
But plans for a new UK-wide health and social care levy, which is expected to deliver £36 billion to the health service over the next three years, will not clear the backlog, health chiefs, analysts, and charities have warned.
It comes after the Government announced that the NHS would be given £5.4 billion over the next six months to continue the response to coronavirus and tackle the backlog caused by the pandemic.
NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, two organisations representing the NHS frontline, welcomed the extra funding but said it “unfortunately hasn’t gone nearly far enough”.
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, and Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Health and care leaders are now faced with an impossible set of choices about where and how to prioritise care for patients.
“The Health and Social Care Secretary Savid Javid has already warned that the 5.5 million waiting list could spiral to 13 million, and this funding shortfall means the threat of long delays will remain.”
They added that the “size of the funding gap remains daunting” and will “significantly impact” care the NHS can provide in the months and years to come.
The Health Foundation, which reported earlier this week that £17 billion will be required over the next five years to return waiting times to the 18-week standard, also said the announcement fell “well short”.
Anita Charlesworth, the health foundation director of research at the REAL Centre, said the scale of the problem meant NHS waiting lists would “almost certainly be longer” by the end of this parliament.
She added that money was not the only issue, with extra staff, beds and equipment also needed to treat the surge in patients expected over the years to come.
“Overall, the funding announced for the NHS is not sufficient for an ambitious recovery programme,” she said.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association chairman of council, said the extra funding would “go some way to meet the rising demand of social care and relieving pressure on an already overstretched NHS”.
But he added even more would be needed “to ensure equitable and better access to care”.
Analysts said the announcement would leave the NHS “deeply worried” about its long-term financial position.
Amanda Pritchard, the NHS chief executive, said: “It’s absolutely right that NHS staff, who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to care for hundreds of thousands of Covid patients in hospital, get strong backing to recover routine services and begin to tackle the Covid backlog.
“The pandemic is still with us and we will have to live with the impact of Covid for some time, so the additional funding confirmed this week will help meet those additional costs, and give the NHS clarity for the coming years while delivering millions more of the vital checks, tests and operations that patients need.”