In his latest pre-Budget and Spending Review announcement, Mr Sunak today revealed plans for a £6bn injection of funding to tackle NHS backlogs across England - including £2.3bn on the creation of dozens of ‘one-stop-shop’ community diagnostic centres to provide millions more checks and scans for non-emergency patients in locations including shopping centres and football stadiums as well as existing hospitals.
It is the latest in a series of Treasury announcements now collectively committing to more than £26bn of investment to be announced by Mr Sunak on Wednesday.
Despite the Government recently breaking a manifesto commitment to raise National Insurance as a way of funding social care reform, Mr Sunak told The Andrew Marr Show that he wanted to be a tax-cutting Chancellor.
But he cited the twin impact of Covid on Government spending and its effect on NHS waiting lists as among the “challenges” to this happening.
On the idea of cutting taxes during this Parliament, he said: “Of course, my instincts are to do that, that’s what I believe, I want people to better keep more of their money, I want to reward people for working. I want to reward people for working. I think that is a good thing and I think that will help drive economic growth.
“But I’ve also had to grapple with an economic shock, the biggest in 300 years, borrowing that is the highest since World War Two, and things like the elective backlogs in the NHS being at record levels which we want to make progress on.”
When asked by The Yorkshire Post if taxes will rise to cover the £5.9bn of new capital funding for the NHS and the weekend’s other announcements, a Treasury spokesperson said: “We can’t comment on any speculation around tax changes ahead of the Budget, but the Chancellor will set out full tax and spending plans on Wednesday.”
The Government built up huge debts during the pandemic through interventions like the furlough scheme. Recent figures showed that as a result of continued low tax receipts and high expenditure, the public sector borrowed £319.9 billion between end of March and September.
This is equivalent to 14.9 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), the highest ratio since the end of the Second World War when it was 15.2 per cent.
Following the Government debt stood at £2.2 trillion at the end of September – around 95.5 per cent of GDP – the highest ratio since March 1963.
During his recent Conservative Party conference speech, Mr Sunak said: “There can be no prosperous future unless it is built on the foundation of strong public finances.
“Our national debt is almost 100 per cent of GDP – so we need to fix our public finances.”
He added: “I know tax rises are unpopular. Some will even say un-Conservative. I’ll tell you what is un-Conservative - unfunded pledges, reckless borrowing and soaring debt.
“Anyone who tells you that you can borrow more today, and tomorrow will simply sort itself out just doesn’t care about the future.
“I want tax cuts but in order to do that, our public finances must be put back on a sustainable footing.”
The Government said the new community diagnostic centres are expected to help clear most existing test backlogs caused by the pandemic, including for CT, MRI and ultrasound scans, by the end of the Parliament and save lives by speeding up diagnoses for cancer and other life-threatening conditions.
Three of the 44 previously announced sites are in Yorkshire and are due to open by April next year. In addition to sites at Hull University Hospital and the Montagu Hospital in Mexborough, there will be a location at the new Glass Works shopping centre in Barnsley. The Government has also announced a centre at the Brighton and Hove Albion football stadium.
GPs will be able to refer patients to the new centres, which will be open seven days a week.
The Treasury said the locations of the extra sites “will be set out in due course”.
Mr Sunak said: “We are committed to getting health services back on track and ensuring no one is left waiting for vital tests or treatment.
“This is a game-changing investment in the NHS to make sure we have the right buildings, equipment and systems to get patients the help they need and make sure the NHS is fit for the future.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Our phenomenal NHS has worked so hard to keep people safe during the pandemic and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure people are getting the treatment they need as quickly as possible.
“This £6 billion investment will support the delivery of millions more checks, scans and procedures for patients across the country. Business as usual won’t be enough, that’s why we are going to reform care with more community diagnostic centres, new surgical hubs and the latest technology to help recover NHS services by tackling waiting lists.”
The settlement to tackle NHS backlogs also includes £1.5 billion for increased bed capacity, equipment and new surgical hubs to reduce waiting times for elective surgeries. Each hub will be equipped with four to five surgical theatres designated for critical elective surgeries.
A further £2.1bn is to be invested in technology and data to ensure digital systems within hospitals and mental health care settings.
New and improved IT will help NHS staff have access to faster broadband, while the use of digital patient records will be expanded.
Loan for work on former Redcar Steelworks site
A £107m loan from the Government-owned UK Infrastructure Bank will be used to transform part of the former Redcar Steelworks site into a new wind technology site, it has been announced.
Money will be invested in the South Bank Quay development at Teesworks in Teesside, supporting around 800 jobs.
The development is creating a 450-metre quay to service the offshore wind sector, providing opportunities for manufacturing, storage and mobilisation of wind technology.
The loan represents the first investment for the bank, which launched in June 2021 to finance innovative infrastructure projects, tackle climate change and boost growth across the United Kingdom.
South Bank Quay is part of the Teesworks Freeport project, which aims to be the UK’s premier offshore wind hub. It has already attracted global leaders such as GE Renewable Energy, who plan to build a multimillion-pound wind turbine blade manufacturing factory on the site. The quay will play a critical role in the loading out and shipping of these blades to the Dogger Bank wind farm, 80 miles off the coast.
Mr Sunak said: “It’s great to see the UK Infrastructure Bank is already doing deals and helping deliver on our pledge to level up and reach Net Zero.
“This is a vote of confidence in the Tees Valley economy and our new freeports that will help turbocharge Britain’s post-Brexit growth.”
CEO of the UK Infrastructure Bank John Flint said: “I’m very pleased to announce our first transaction, only 4 months since our launch and one that fits with our objectives so clearly. South Bank Quay will not only boost economic activity in the region but is a significant investment in the country’s future green technologies.
“We are looking forward to working with the team and encourage other local and regional bodies to get in touch with us on how we can work together to finance projects across the country.”
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.