UK announces extra 5.4 bln pounds to help COVID-hit health services

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Britain will set aside a further 5.4 billion pounds ($7.5 billion) over the next six months to help its National Health Service cover additional costs from the COVID-19 pandemic and to tackle the huge treatment backlog.

Record-breaking waiting lists for routine hospital treatment and an unprecedented summer demand for emergency services are heaping pressure on the health service in England.

“The NHS was there for us during the pandemic – but treating COVID patients has created huge backlogs,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.

“This funding will go straight to the frontline, to provide more patients with the treatments they need but aren’t getting quickly enough.”

The NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, warned last week that the health service will need about 10 billion pounds more a year to reduce the COVID-19 backlog and cover additional costs from the pandemic.

The extra funding announced by the government includes 1 billion pounds to help tackle the backlog and 2.8 billion pounds to cover related costs such as enhanced infection control measures to keep staff and patients safe from the virus.

The total number of people who have been referred for hospital care rose in June to 5.45 million, the highest monthly figure since records began, NHS England figures show.

Britain’s health secretary Sajid Javid last month said that an estimated 7 million people who might have needed to use the health service during the pandemic did not access it – and the waiting list will climb further as more of them seek care.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases have started to climb again over the past month, raising the possibility there could soon be an increase in hospital admissions.

The ambulance service handled more than 1 million 999 calls in July, the highest monthly figure on record. More than 2,200 accident and emergency patients waited more than 12 hours on trolleys to be admitted to a ward, the figures showed.

The government said the extra funding would take total COVID-19 support for the health service to more than 34 billion pounds this year alone.