Boris Johnson vows £3bn funding boost to get NHS ‘battle ready’ for winter
Boris Johnson is promising a £3bn spending boost to get the NHS “battle ready for winter” as the country continues to grapple with coronavirus.
Number 10 said the additional funding would be “available immediately”, with Johnson also using a press conference on Friday to bulk out the Government’s COVID-19 “road-map” recovery plan and promise a further boost to testing.
The funding comes after a government-commissioned report this week urged ministers to make “intense preparation” over the next two months to get the NHS ready for a winter spike of COVID-19 cases which could lead to 119,000 hospital deaths.
Downing Street said the cash would allow the NHS to both carry on using private hospital capacity and maintain extra support in the largely-unused new Nightingale hospitals.
Johnson is also set to publish a new chapter for the Government's coronavirus “road map”, and confirm plans to increase antigen testing capacity — detecting whether a person currently has the virus — to half a million a day by the end of October.
It has been reported that the Prime Minister will also use Friday’s press conference to signal a shift in the Government’s advice on returning to work — although Sir Patrick told MPs on Thursday that there was "absolutely no reason" for companies to change their policy if it was not detrimental to business.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the British people, the virus is under control and we have eased restrictions in a cautious, phased way.
“But the Prime Minister is clear that now is not the time for complacency, and we must make sure our NHS is battle ready for winter.
“Tomorrow, he will set out a broad package of measures to protect against both a possible second wave, and to ease winter pressures and keep the public safe.”
A report by the Academy of Medical Sciences, commissioned by the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, said this week that the health service should brace for a peak in hospital admissions next January to February “of a similar magnitude” to the first wave earlier this year.
And it estimated that there could be 119,000 hospital deaths between September 2020 and June 2021 — “over double the number that occurred during the first wave” — if steps are not taken to ready the NHS.
Pressure in the health service is typically at its most intense in the winter, and the report warned that a “generalised increase” in flu cases could “rapidly overwhelm” the NHS’s test and trace capacity.
Number 10 said ministers were “fully aware that winter will present further challenges”, and said a new marketing campaign would be launched “shortly” to increase public awareness of access to testing for COVID-19.
Officials have been modelling scenarios for the winter and looking to “assess what the UK can learn from other nations”, it said, while the Government is auditing stockpiles of personal protective and other equipment to ensure the health service has the tools it needs.
The funding boost has been welcomed by the Local Government Association, which represents councils.
But chairman James Jamieson warned: “If this awful pandemic has proved one thing it is that there cannot be a sustainable NHS without a sustainable adult social care system. You cannot protect one and not the other.
“Adult social care services remain on the frontline of this crisis and need parity of esteem with the NHS. We urge the Government to also further address the immediate financial pressures facing the sector.”