Autumn Budget 2021: £5.9bn allocated to clear current NHS backlogs

Initially announced on Sunday (24 October), the new funding aims to reduce to the current waiting list for NHS treatment, which stands at a record 5.7 million people, with the objective of increasing elective activity by 30% by 2024-25 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

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Detailed within the Autumn Budget and Spending Review, the funding will be provided to address the backlog waiting for tests and scans, as well as improving and purchasing new equipment and technologies, rather than day-to-day spending.

Sunak said the total spending on healthcare was set to increase by £44bn to £177bn by the end of the current parliament, with the largest health budget since 2010.

During his address to the House of Commons, the Chancellor said this includes: “Record investment in health R&D, including better newborn screening… 40 new hospitals, 70 hospital upgrades, more operating theatres to tackle the backlog, and 100 community diagnostic centres – all staffed by a bigger, better trained workforce with 50,000 more nurses and 50 million more primary care appointments.”

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The funding package comprises:

  • £2.3bn to “transform” diagnostic testing (such as MRIs, CT and ultrasound scans) through permanently increased capacity at 100 community diagnostics centres throughout England
  • £2.1bn for the “innovative use of digital technology” to improve healthcare communications and free up time of NHS staff
  • £1.5bn for new surgical hubs, increased bed capacity and equipment to “help elective services recover”.

Meanwhile, funds to facilitate the construction of 40 new hospitals by 2030 and upgrades to 70 existing hospitals has been set at £4.2bn over the next three years. Of the announced new hospitals, 30 have already been confirmed for construction outside London and the South East region.

The £5.9bn NHS investment follows the unveiling of a 1.25% increase in National Insurance tax as part of a Health & Social Care levy in September, designed to raise a total of £36bn, the majority of which will go directly to the NHS over the next three years to clear the Covid-19 backlog and improve access to healthcare across the UK.

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