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Government sets aside billions to tackle coronavirus in Budget statement

The Government has dedicated an initial £5bn to help the NHS get through the coronavirus outbreak.

But chancellor Rishi Sunak went on to promise the NHS will get whatever resources it needs to tackle the virus.

The news comes as confirmed diagnoses of Covid-19 in the UK jumped to 456 today, up from 373 yesterday.

The Government has created a Covid-19 Response fund, part of which will be used to make sure the NHS is prepared and protected to treat Coronavirus patients. The fund will also be used to maintain staffing levels during the outbreak.

In addition, the chancellor announced £40m pounds of funding for the National Institute for Health Research and the DHSC. The money would enable further rapid research into Covid-19 and increase the capacity and capability of diagnostic testing and surveillance.

Mr Sunak said ‘whatever extra resources our NHS needs’ to cope with the coronavirus ‘it will get, whether that be millions, or billions, of pounds’.

The Budget also set out ‘action to ensure that pensions tax rules do not deter doctors from taking on additional shifts’, with increases to both tapered annual allowance threshold, from £110,000 to £200,000 and a reduction to the annual allowance from £10,000 to £4,000.

And the statement added: ‘The Budget provides over £6bn of further funding to strengthen the NHS in England and pay for vital services that will improve people’s health, reaffirming the Government’s commitment to health and social care.’

It said this money would fund the Government’s pledge for 6,000 more GPs and 50 million additional GP appointments per year.

Other commitments for the NHS included:

  • A £34bn funding boost a year by 2024;
  • A temporary alternative to fit notes so that people advised to self-isolate can obtain a notification via NHS111, which they can use as evidence for absence from work where necessary;
  • Over £100m in 40 new hospital projects in 2020/21, as part of a long-term programme of investment in health infrastructure to ensure the NHS has world-class facilities for patients;
  • An increase to immigration health surcharge to £624 to ensure that new arrivals to the UK contribute to the funding of the NHS;
  • More than £200m for the NHS in England to replace its oldest diagnostic equipment, including MRI machines, CT scanners, and breast screening equipment;
  • The end of hospital car parking fees in England for those in greatest need, including patients with a disability and/or terminal illness and their families, patients with regular appointments, parents of sick children staying overnight and NHS staff working night shifts;
  • Increases to both tapered annual allowance threshold, from £110,000 to £200,000 and a reduction to the annual allowance from £10,000 to £4,000.

The Budget also said the entrepreneurs’ relief on business capital gains will be reduced to £1m from £10m.

‘This keeps the allowance in place for most GPs selling shares in their premises,’ said AISMA executive board member and Mazars UK partner Andrew Pow.

And he added: ‘The earlier announcement today of a reduction in interest rates by 0.5% will benefit doctors who have variable rate loans on their surgery borrowing.’

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The chancellor has said that whatever resources the NHS needs to cope with Covid-19, it will get, and it is vital, for the sake of the nation’s health, that he keeps this promise. Whether this means millions or billions of pounds, this offer must come with no limits or catches.

‘How, and more importantly, when, this money is spent will be crucial in how well the NHS copes. Therefore, the Government must listen to frontline clinicians, who are in the best possible position to advise. It must be spent where it’s needed most – whether this means extra bed capacity in hospitals, more equipment and support in GP practices, further resources for testing, or systems to ensure frontline staff are protected, including the technology for remote consultations in what are likely to be exceptional circumstances.’

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund welcomed the coronavirus cash injection but commented that the £6bn funding for the Government’s prevoious NHS pledges was light on detail.

He said: ‘Chronic workforce shortages remain the single biggest issue currently facing the NHS and social care, yet the Budget was light on detail of how it would boost recruitment and retention, and support under pressure staff.’

He went on to call on the Government to speed up the publication of its long-awaited comprehensive ‘people plan’, setting out how it will achieve targets.