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The NHS will receive an extra £5.4 billion over the next six months to support its response to COVID-19 and help tackle waiting lists, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has unveiled.

The funding will immediately go towards supporting the NHS to manage the immediate pressures of the pandemic. This includes an extra £1 billion to help tackle the COVID-19 backlog, £2.8 billion to cover related costs such as enhanced infection control measures to keep staff and patients safe from the virus, and £478 million to continue the hospital discharge programme, freeing up beds.

This extra multi-billion-pound funding brings the UK Government’s total investment to health services for COVID-19 so far this year to over £34 billion, with £2 billion in total for the NHS to tackle the elective backlog.

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Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The NHS has been phenomenal as it has faced one of the biggest challenges in its history.

“Today’s additional £5.4 billion funding over the next 6 months is critical to ensuring the health service has what it needs to manage the ongoing pandemic and helping to tackle waiting lists.

“We know waiting lists will get worse before they get better as people come forward for help, and I want to reassure you the NHS is open, and we are doing what we can to support the NHS to deliver routine operations and treatment to patients across the country.”

DHSC has pledged that the NHS will get what it needs to recover its usual services and deliver quality care to patients.

£478 million of the new funding has been dedicated to continue the hospital discharge programme so staff can ensure patients leave hospital as quickly and as safely as possible, with the right community or at-home support. This will free up thousands of extra beds and staff time to help the NHS recover services, DHSC says.

The government has also invested £500 million in capital funding for extra theatre capacity and productivity-boosting technology, to increase the number of surgeries able to take place.

However, NHS Confederation and NHS Providers have said that while this additional £5.4 billion cash boost is a welcome start, long-term funding is urgently required to clear the backlog of patients waiting for treatment due to COVID-19 pressures.

Commenting on the announcement, Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation and Saffron Cordery, Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, said: “While this funding is welcome, the NHS will be held back by major staff shortages that will make it much harder to clear the backlog. This isn’t a short-term fix – we are looking at five to seven years to clear the backlog.

“As well as the NHS playing its part, we also need the public to continue to follow the Covid guidance around mask wearing and social distancing, as well as only using services like A&E when necessary. There has been a lot of negativity towards online consultations from parts of the media, but these are proving to be effective when they are deemed appropriate for individual patients.

“Contrary to reports, GP practices have remained open throughout the pandemic and will continue to provide face-to-face assessments when needed. But given Covid infection rates remain high, and with schools now open and workers returning to offices, we must be able to run services safely in order to avoid GP practices being closed due to outbreaks of Covid.

“The coming winter is going to be incredibly tough, but we have a chance of getting through this if the government, NHS and public continue to work together to manage the ongoing threat from Covid while starting to make inroads into the backlog of care.”

This funding is for England only. The devolved administrations will receive up to £1 billion in Barnett consequentials in 2021-22. The final amount will be confirmed and allocated at Supplementary Estimates 2021-22.

On top of this funding, the NHS recently launched a £160 million initiative to tackle waiting lists. This is looking to accelerate the recovery of routine treatments and operations by trialling new ways of working.

Recently, the Scottish Government unveiled a £2.5 billion investment in NHS Scotland to transform health and social care delivery, as well as manage COVID-19 pressures.

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