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Nearly £6bn NHS funding will not improve backlog without tackling vacancies, doctors warn


By Jess Hacker
26 October 2021

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The £5.9bn funding to tackle England’s growing backlog for care, which is expected to be announced during tomorrow’s Budget and Spending Review, will not be effective if the NHS remains understaffed, the Government has been warned.

Currently, the care backlog in England sits at a record-high 5.7 million people, according to the latest data collected in August.

As part of the Government’s budget review (27 October), the chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak is expected to announce new capital funding to help increase elective activity by 30% by 2024/25, the Treasury has said.

It also said that £2.3bn will be spent on improving diagnostic services and implementing 100 community diagnostic centres in England.

A further £1.5bn will be spent on increasing bed capacity and new surgical hubs to alleviate waiting times.

However, the funding announcement has been met with concern from several stakeholders, who highlighted the ongoing workforce crisis facing the NHS.

Commenting on the pledge, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘The promise of delivering millions more checks, scans, and procedures as part of tackling the backlog will require trained staff, and this must be addressed on Wednesday if this funding is going to have any impact on patient care.’

He flagged that there are 93,000 vacancies across the NHS, with BMA estimates suggesting the NHS is short of 50,000 FTE doctors to sit on the same standing with OECD EU nations.

Meanwhile, Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said any investment ‘will only deliver’ if there is the right ‘number and mix’ of staff, adding that ‘fully-qualified GPs per patient having dropped by 10% over the past five years, this is a long-term issue that cannot be fixed quickly’.

This comes as the backlog for care appears to be growing by about 100,000 people each month, while NHS staff are reporting they are falling under ‘the highest pressure they have ever known’.

And analysis conducted by the Health Foundation showed the Government will have to spend £17bn if it intends to return hospital waiting times to 18 weeks during this parliament.

Recent modelling by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that concerns that the NHS waiting list could reach and exceed 13 million people are ‘well within the realms of possibility’.

Mr Sunak has been under pressure since the summer to address this issues in the spending review.

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