• Chancellor says NHS will get whatever extra resources it needs
  • Treasury has not given details on how funding will be distributed or accessed

The government has announced a contingency fund of £5bn has been set to make sure the NHS, social care and other public services can respond to the covid-19 outbreak.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the money would be available immediately to cushion the pressure of the outbreak on the NHS.

It has not been revealed how the amount was calculated, or how the money will be distributed or organised within the NHS, but the Treasury has said the amount could increase.

The Budget documents stated: “HM Treasury is creating an emergency response fund, set aside to ensure the [NHS] and other public services have the resources they need to tackle the impacts of covid-19.

“Initially set at £5bn, it will fund pressures in the NHS, support local authorities to manage pressures on social care and support vulnerable people, and help deal with pressures on other public services.

“The size of the fund will be reviewed as the situation develops, to ensure all necessary resources are made available.”

During his Budget speech — his first since being appointed chancellor last month — Mr Sunak indicated some areas the money could be used for.

He said: “Whatever extra resources our NHS needs to cope with coronavirus, it will get.

“So whether it’s research for a vaccine, recruiting thousands of returning staff or supporting our brilliant doctors and nurses, whether it’s millions of pounds or billions of pounds, we stand behind our NHS.”

Nuffield Trust chief economist John Appleby welcomed the size of the pot but questioned how NHS organisations would be able to usefully spend it.

He said: “The new £5bn emergency fund for coronavirus will help the health service and social care to take immediate urgent measures, like buying protective equipment, covering overtime, and bringing in the private sector.

“But staff and space are the resources that will really be needed, and the NHS starts in a deep hole after a decade of underfunding and understaffing.

“With tens of thousands of nursing posts already vacant and beds full to capacity, what can the service usefully spend this money on? The decision to keep the extra money in the Treasury for now may also mean NHS managers hold back, out of fear that they won’t get what they spend refunded.”

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