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Boris Johnson has said without the tax hike, the health service will not be able to deal with the record backlog of care – which currently stands at 5.5 million people.
Mr Johnson said that the backlog would “get worse before it gets better”, but said that the new funds raised would enable the health system to ramp up services and deal with the waiting list.
Plans for a new UK-wide 1.25% health and social care levy will also enable “radical innovation” in the health service, Mr Johnson said.
The tax will raise almost £36 billion over the next three years, with the majority of funds to go to the health service. But NHS leaders have warned that the money “falls short of what is needed”.
NHS Providers and NHS Confederation, which represent NHS organisations, said that the additional funds “do not go far enough” and mean that the “threat of long delays will remain”.
Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference that the NHS is “our national priority”.
He added: “Unless we do this, we can’t deal with the backlog in the way that the British public need.
“This is fundamental to putting our NHS back on its feet post-Covid.”
“And we’re also investing in the next generation of scanners and screening equipment so we can find deadly diseases like cancer much more quickly.”
It is estimated that seven million fewer people have come forward to seek care during the pandemic.
The Prime Minister told the Commons earlier on Tuesday: “Today we are beginning the biggest catch-up programme in NHS history, capping the Covid backlogs by increasing hospital capacity to 110% and enabling nine million more appointments, scans and operations.
“As a result, while waiting lists will get worse before they get better, the NHS will aim to be treating around 30% more elective patients by 2024-2025 than before Covid.”
He added: “It will enable radical innovation to improve the speed and quality of care including: better screening equipment to diagnose serious diseases such as cancer more quickly; designated surgical facilities so non-urgent patients are no longer competing with A&E; faster GP access to specialists so you don’t have to wait months to see someone in hospital to find out whether something is wrong; and new digital technology so doctors can monitor patients remotely in their homes.”
The document setting out the plans states that without action it could take 10 years to clear the backlog of care.
But in a joint statement, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation and Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “No-one should be in any doubt that this extra funding is welcome, but the Government promised to give the NHS whatever it needed to deal with the pandemic, and, while it makes a start on tackling backlogs, this announcement unfortunately hasn’t gone nearly far enough.
“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.
“NHS leaders have unfortunately become accustomed to having less money than the service needs. But the size of the funding gap remains daunting and will significantly impact the kind of care that the NHS can provide to the public in the months and years ahead.”
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, 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.”