Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced an extra £3billion in funding so the NHS can prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 infections and stay on top of the annual winter pressures.
In an announcement at Downing Street, Johnson also pledged a new coronavirus testing regime, with capacity increased to a least 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.
Organisations will need to allocate spend wisely, to protect our NHS workers and patients, and to ensure they have the time, equipment and digital tools needed to manage the health crisis
And he came under increasing pressure to keep the emergency Nightingale field hospitals open following warnings that this winter could see as many as 120,000 COVID-19 deaths across the UK.
He said: “Demand for testing is not the only challenge that winter will bring.
“It’s possible that the virus will be more virulent in the winter months and it’s certain that the NHS will face the usual annual winter pressures.
“We’re making sure we’re ready for winter and planning for the worst.”
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive additional funds, he added.
The funding will be available immediately and will allow the NHS to continue using private hospital capacity and will support retention of Nightingale and other field hospitals until the end of March next year, said Downing Street.
As well as helping the NHS to cope with future coronavirus outbreaks, the cash will also enable trusts to begin tackling the backlog created by the cancellation of routine services as a result of the first wave of the pandemic.
There will be many calls on this extra money, and it is likely that the Chancellor will be asked for yet more funding if a second wave of COVID-19, or a bad flu season, emerges
Responding to the announcement, Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at health think tank, The King’s Fund, said that while the cash was welcomed, the Government also needed to tackle social care budgets.
He added: “The £3billion in extra NHS funding announced today is far greater than the winter funding boosts NHS services have been given in previous years.
“But this is no ordinary winter as the NHS faces the continued threat from COVID-19, a rising backlog for care, and potential flu outbreaks as colder weather sets in.
“There will be many calls on this extra money, and it is likely that the Chancellor will be asked for yet more funding if a second wave of COVID-19, or a bad flu season, emerges.
“Extra funding for NHS services is welcome and will help maintain the extra capacity that was put in place over recent months – including extra beds and staff across NHS hospitals, Nightingale hospitals and the private sector.
“But, to maintain and improve care for patients it is equally important that financial support is provided for social care services so that the health and care systems has the funding and staff they need in the coming months.”
To maintain and improve care for patients it is equally important that financial support is provided for social care services so that the health and care systems has the funding and staff they need in the coming months
And industry leaders are calling for the NHS to embrace innovative construction approaches, such as modular and mobile solutions, in order to deliver extra capacity more quickly.
Speaking to BBH, Richard Coe, project director at Kajima Partnerships, said: “Keeping the Nightingale hospitals open and expanding coronavirus testing are clearly critical steps in keeping the British public safe this winter. But we should also urgently look to expand the capacity of other NHS services.
“Predictions suggest that the waiting list for routine surgeries could reach 10 million this year, while around 200,000 people a week are no longer being screened for bowel, breast and cervical cancer across the UK.
“The NHS needs additional capacity, and fast.
“The establishment of the Nightingale hospitals has demonstrated just how rapidly and effectively our health service and the construction industry can respond to increased demand.
“But we must also look to alternative faster solutions, such as offsite modular construction.
“This cost-effective method can help to deliver additional space for much-needed services, such as operating theatres, rapid diagnostic centres, and new wards safely, and quickly.
“This £3billion pledge is a welcome step towards meeting new winter pressures, but to fully protect the NHS and support all service users, we must turn to innovative solutions such as modular construction, increasing capacity across our healthcare system both this winter and in the years to come to manage waiting lists effectively.”
And technology will also have a key role to play.
The establishment of the Nightingale hospitals has demonstrated just how rapidly and effectively our health service and the construction industry can respond to increased demand
Steve Brain, executive director of health and care at Civica, said: “With a second wave of coronavirus potentially on the horizon, the UK Government’s announcement of £3billion to help prepare the NHS in England is much needed, especially if it hits during the winter months as feared.
“But, while this may sound substantial, the cost of running and maintaining a nationwide free healthcare system during a global health pandemic is vast.
“And organisations will need to allocate spend wisely, to protect our NHS workers and patients, and to ensure they have the time, equipment and digital tools needed to manage the health crisis.
“Using cloud technology and data to drive efficiencies and provide clinicians with the information they need at their fingertips will be vital to success.
“From ensuring clinical staff have access to electronic patient records to make informed decisions, and using technology to support recruitment at a time when NHS workforces may be stretched to the brink we cannot underestimate the power of technology to help a system under enormous pressure.”
Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is one example of a healthcare organisations innovating to support its frontline workers through smarter use of technology.
Understanding the importance of access to real-time, accurate data, it recently implemented Civica’s digital healthcare platform to enable clinicians to access accurate, up-to-date patient data in one place.
This increased patient safety by giving clinicians a single version of the truth at the point of care, freeing up 3,200 hours per year to focus on improving patient care and saving lives.
“Technology to assist listening to NHS employees is vital,” said Brain.
“Occupational Health systems to protect staff health and wellbeing, alongside strong communications tools such as the Connect App launched during the pandemic by Southern Health and Social Care Trust, will prove more crucial than ever.
“And it’s paramount that everything we learnt from the first wave is not lost or ignored.
“Now is the time to prepare for rapid deployment of digital solutions in key areas.
“This will elevate an organisation’s ability to function at peak demand, while safeguarding the needs of both patients and frontline workers.”