Extra £6bn for NHS in budget must be matched by increase in workforce, warns BMA

Additional funding for the NHS to be announced as part of this week's budget must be matched by an increase in workforce if the health service is to tackle the growing backlog of care, the BMA has warned.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Photo: Ben Stansall/Getty Images)

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to announce a £5.9bn increase in capital funding for the NHS in the budget and spending review on Wednesday this week. He said the investment was 'game changing'.

The additional funding will aim to deliver 30% more elective activity by 2024/25 when compared with pre-pandemic levels, the Treasury said.

Mr Sunak will announce that £2.3bn of the package will be used to develop 100 new 'one-stop shop' community diagnostic centres in England, 44 of which have previously been announced.

Meanwhile, £1.5bn will be allocated to increase bed capacity and set up new hubs to tackle waiting times for elective surgery. A further £2.1bn will be spent on modernising technology in hospitals and mental healthcare settings.

Diagnostic centres

The diagnostic centres were one of a number recommendations made by former national cancer director Professor Sir Mike Richardson, who was commissioned to review diagnostic services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan last year.

The government said the centres would make it quicker and easier for patients to get the tests and scans they need closer to home, helping to detect cancer and other conditions sooner.

'They are expected to help clear most existing test backlogs caused by the pandemic, including for CT, MRI and ultrasound scans, by the end of the parliament,' the Treasury said. 'This additional capacity will also ensure the resilience of our diagnostic services in the years to come.'

However, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that, while the announcement was positive, clarity was needed on exactly how the money would be spent.

'Whilst it is positive that bed capacity and extra equipment have been accounted for, plus funding set to be invested in IT, it’s essential that all of this is complemented by a workforce to match, and further detail is urgently needed on this,' Dr Nagpaul said.

Workforce shortages

'There are acute workforce shortages in the NHS, with 93,000 vacancies across the health service. The BMA estimates that England would need an additional 50,000 full-time equivalent doctors simply to sit on equivalent standing with OECD EU nations today.

'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.'

The NHS Confederation also warned that the £5.9bn promised 'falls short of what is needed to get services completely back on track'.

NHS Confederation director of policy Dr Layla McCay said any additional funding would 'only deliver if there are the right number and mix of workers to do so'.  She added: 'Recruitment is ongoing, but this is a long-term issue that cannot be fixed quickly.'

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: 'We are committed to getting health services back on track and ensuring no one is left waiting for vital tests or treatment. This is a game-changing investment in the NHS to make sure we have the right buildings, equipment and systems to get patients the help they need and make sure the NHS is fit for the future.'

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: 'Our phenomenal NHS has worked so hard to keep people safe during the pandemic and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure people are getting the treatment they need as quickly as possible.

'Business as usual won’t be enough, that’s why we are going to reform care with more community diagnostic centres, new surgical hubs and the latest technology to help recover NHS services by tackling waiting lists.'

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