• PM: “more funding will be required” to “restore and rebuild” the NHS after covid-19
  • Number 10 says repairing damage done to NHS by covid-19 will be at heart of Queen’s Speech
  • The Queen’s Speech to Parliament will take place on Tuesday

The prime minister will declare that ‘more funding will be required’ to ‘restore and rebuild’ the NHS after covid-19, and that government will be ‘setting out in detail the huge scale of the challenge’ for the service.

According to a Number 10 statement tonight, Boris Johnson will “put repairing the damage done to the NHS by coronavirus at the heart of next week’s Queen’s Speech”.

The statement says Mr Johnson “will be honest with the public by setting out in detail the huge scale of the challenge ahead: to restore and rebuild our most cherished public service so patients get the care they need as quickly as possible”.

It adds: “The government is drawing up detailed plans on dealing with unprecedented backlogs in the NHS.”

There are no new specific spending commitments, but the statement says that, “despite significant constraints on public spending… The PM will make clear more funding will be required for NHS recovery in the years ahead”.

The statement suggests an acceptance at Number 10 that the government will need to increase NHS spending above its current five-year settlement, and on top of the covid funding announced so far.

The release says: “Covid has left us in an unprecedented situation, with 4.7 million people now waiting for care. There will be even more demand when people come forward for treatment who may have delayed doing so during the past year.

“In the weeks ahead, the PM will make clear that tackling backlogs and improving patient care will be a critical priority for the remainder of the Parliament.”

Since last February, huge reductions in the number of planned procedures and appointments taking place has seen the average wait increase significantly.

The total list has only risen from 4.4m to 4.7m, as of the latest official data in February, but those on the list are waiting much longer, with the number on the list for at least a year up from around 1,600 to almost 390,000, and an expectation of a rush of new referrals in coming months.

Big increases in demand and catch-up pressures are also expected in mental health and primary and community care, including the impact of long-covid. 

A Number 10 source quoted in the release says: “We have to be honest with the public about the damage done to the NHS by coronavirus and the scale of the challenge ahead.

“Now more than ever the NHS is the government’s priority – and recovery of patient services is at the heart of that.

“We need to achieve a national recovery that spreads opportunity and transforms the whole UK, and this Queen’s Speech will have that ambition at its core.”

The Queen’s Speech to Parliament on Tuesday will set out the government’s legislation plans over the next year.

There will be a health and social care bill, as proposed in a white paper earlier this year, with a wide range of measures including merging NHS England and Improvement and making integrated care systems into statutory bodies. This is likely to be introduced to Parliament next month, a government source told HSJ.

The Downing Street statement said it would “bring forward legislation to empower the NHS to innovate and embrace technology, and reforms to the Mental Health Act to address the impact of the pandemic on people’s wellbeing”.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Boris Johnson should be honest with the country. Treatment lists at record highs and patients waiting longer for vital care including for cancer and mental health conditions is a consequence of 10 years of Tory cuts and underfunding in health care.

“We entered the crisis short of 200,000 staff across health and social care leaving us exposed and vulnerable.

“The test of whether this Queen’s Speech genuinely delivers for the people of Britain is if it brings forward a proper rescue plan for the NHS and delivers a social care solution as Boris Johnson promised on 10 steps of Downing Street almost two years ago.”

How quickly the NHS will be able to address the elective backlog will in part depend on how much funding is set aside for the job.

However, one senior NHS figure familiar with negotiations told HSJ last week there were concerns that ministers and NHS leaders remained worryingly far apart on how quickly they thought the list could be brought back under control and how much funding it would require.

In an analysis for HSJ last week, waiting list expert Rob Findlay said it was not possible to accurately predict how long it would take the NHS to address its elective backlog, because there were so many unknown variables in play.

These include how many of the “missing referrals” from the last year will actually come back into the system, and whether the thresholds at which patients seek care have shifted permanently.

However, in a reasonable case scenario he set out, it would take the NHS the best part of the decade to address the elective referral to treatment waiting list alone and “ignores the other important things that will also need to be tackled, such as the pressures on follow-up outpatients, non-elective beds, workforce, capital backlog, non-acute care…”