The new £5.4 billion cash boost for NHS England is the easy bit of a very tricky situation for the health service and the politicians trying to work out how to deal with it. As Health Secretary Sajid Javid made clear on Monday, while the money will help deal with the backlog in treatment caused by the pandemic, it won’t do so immediately. He said that waiting lists would go up before they started to go down because people are still coming forward for treatment. Javid has been pitch-rolling for a dreadful winter ever since he took on the job, warning almost immediately that waiting lists could reach 13 million. Currently there are over five million people needing operations and other NHS services.
This new money also only covers the period up to April 2022. What trusts are much more concerned about — and what’s been keeping the Treasury and Department of Health and Social Care locked in talks — is the year after that. NHS Providers has said the health service needs £10 billion next year to be able to tackle the backlog while still dealing with the effects of Covid — both in terms of cases and infection control measures which take beds and staff out of action while demand is still high.
The Treasury is, true to form, anxious that the health service doesn’t just take the money without it appearing to touch the sides. There is dark talk of the need for efficiencies that have been long promised. But it’s hard to see how trusts can realistically operate at their most efficient when staff are having to self-isolate and spend more time between patients as they don and doff PPE.