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NHS cuts to cover Covid costs may hit patient care, Labour warns

Patient care may suffer as a result of cuts to the NHS budget to fund the continuing costs of Covid, NHS leaders and Labour have said, after Sajid Javid refused to say where the axe would fall.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)  is trying to make savings from its budget to fund free lateral flow tests for elderly people, Covid surveillance studies and genomic sequencing, after the Treasury refused its request for £5bn in extra funding.

Although the government announced an end to most free mass testing and contract tracing on Monday, remaining Covid measures are expected to cost more than £1bn.

The Treasury and the DHSC refused to say exactly how much cash would be needed or which services would have to be cut back, prompting fears that the NHS could have to find savings at a time of a huge waiting list backlog.

It is understood that DHSC officials are working on identifying savings in the department’s £178.5bn budget for 2022-23, to fund the measures agreed on Monday, including maintaining a “baseline” testing capability that can be scaled up if necessary.

They have ruled out hitting Javid’s plan for tackling waiting lists, but a government source would not rule out any other areas being affected, saying a “significant amount of money” would have to be found by “reprioritising”.

Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, warned the government against abandoning its commitment to give the NHS “whatever it needs” to tackle Covid and called for transparency about “where the impact of these extra costs will fall”.

“Trust leaders are understandably anxious over reports that the ongoing and significant costs of living with Covid will be met by ‘reprioritising’ the NHS’s existing budget,” she said. “There is a very real risk of trade-offs affecting the quality of patient care – something no one wants to see.”

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Source: The Guardian, 23 February 2022


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