NHS to get ‘whatever it needs’ in financial support from government amid coronavirus outbreak, says chancellor

Andrew Woodcock
EPA

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said the government is ready to give the NHS “whatever it needs” in financial support to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

Just days before his first budget statement, the chancellor also said that he was ready to use “policy levers” to ease short-term problems for business caused by the virus.

Prime minister Boris Johnson last week announced a £46m package to respond to the outbreak, including funding to find a vaccine and develop a rapid test for the disease, and further measures are expected in Wednesday’s budget.

Mr Sunak told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I’m working hard with the team to make sure that we have the interventions required to help anyone through a difficult period first and foremost, supporting public services but also helping vulnerable people and also businesses to get through anything that might be coming our way.”

Asked whether this could include more money for the NHS, he replied: “Absolutely, we stand ready give the NHS whatever it needs.”

Mr Sunak insisted that the UK was well prepared financially to deal with the threat from coronavirus. “The economy is in a good place, we will get through this,” he said.

He rejected the idea that the Treasury might step in to “bail out” companies which fail as a result of the loss of business or the absence of staff due to coronavirus.

But he said: “‘Bail out’ isn’t necessarily the right word but there are policy levers we can take to ease the short-term burden on businesses’ cashflow and these are businesses that we think are viable, sustainable, that have a bright future but have a temporary period of disruption and that’s where our interventions should be focused.”

Regional airline Fybe became the first major business casualty of the outbreak last week when the sharp decline in passenger numbers contributed to its collapse.

Mr Sunak confirmed that the government is ruling out extending the Brexit transition period beyond 31 December as a result of coronavirus.

Asked whether an extension was an option, the chancellor said: “No, I think very clearly the prime minister has been clear that we don’t want to extend the transition period.

“I think people are fed up of having more delays and people not doing what they say in this regard and again, we have got off to a good start.

“The negotiations have started in earnest, our team have been very well prepared for a while and a lot of the work that we did last year for preparing to leave the European Union is very helpful and valuable in this regard and we’ve already started that work this year to make sure everyone is ready for those new trading relationships.”

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that the NHS needed a permanent boost in funding, not just extra money to tide it over the current crisis.

John McDonnell says the crisis is made worse by ‘not addressing NHS’s long-term issues’ (AP)

Speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr McDonnell said Mr Sunak was offering “a bit more”, but “it’s nowhere near the scale we need”.

He added: “The worry that I’ve got is that this budget will not deliver what we need in terms of the NHS.

“There’s long-term issues that have to be addressed and this crisis is made worse by not addressing those long-term issues. We need funding for the NHS, full funding, not just to cope with this virus.”

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