The Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised the NHS will get “whatever resources it needs” to combat the coronavirus outbreak, as the number of positive cases in the UK rose by 64 to total 273.
Rishi Sunak said the UK’s “strong” economic foundations enabled him to provide extra funding which could include help for individuals and businesses financially affected by measures taken to combat the virus.
His comments come as the chair of the Royal College of GPs, Prof Martin Marshall warned the coronavirus outbreak is a “significant crisis” for the health service that “will require a significant amount of resources” to continue “doing what we are doing” to combat it.
20% of workforce could be ‘out of action’
Marshall told Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday programme: “I expect we will cut down in terms of the other work we do”, and welcomed plans to ask recently retired doctors and nurses to return to the NHS to help staff battle Covid-19.
“I think it is a good idea as long as we do it carefully, and people are estimating that 20% of the workforce might be out of action at any one time when the crisis reaches its peak – people are talking about some time in late April for that”, said Marshall.
“If that happens then we do need to expand the workforce in whatever way we can.”
Emergency legislation and ‘drastic new measures’ to combat coronavirus
In a series of interviews ahead of his first budget on Wednesday, the chancellor said: “I can say absolutely, categorically, the NHS will get whatever resources it needs to get us through this crisis.”
Sunak’s comments echo those made by the health secretary Matt Hancock who insisted the government will do “everything in its power” to fight the virus as he set out plans to deal with the impact of the virus.
Emergency legislation is expected at the end of the month which will allow people to switch jobs in order to volunteer with the NHS or in care homes, with a government source explaining: “In the event of a pandemic, we want to be able to maximise the number of volunteers and the amount of time they can commit to supporting the health and social care system – without fear of them losing their jobs.”
The “range of drastic new measures” being drawn up by ministers also includes potentially banning over-70s from large gatherings, restrictions on sporting events and plans for courts to use telephone and video links to avoid attendance in-person at hearings.
Public spending spurge expected
The chancellor has also fuelled expectations of a public spending splurge by repeatedly failing to rule out ditching the fiscal rules laid out in the Conservative’s election manifesto.
These fiscal rules – set just a few months ago by Sunak’s predecessor Sajid Javid – commits the chancellor to balancing the government’s day-to-day spending by the midway point of this parliament, 2022-23.
Impact of coronavirus on business – ‘significant but temporray’
The Chancellor told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show his policies would be directed by the principle of “fiscal responsibility” and added the impact of the virus on business “could be significant, but for a temporary period of time.”
Boris Johnson will chair a Cobra meeting on Monday. The prime minister announced a further £46 million package to respond to the outbreak last week – with funding to develop a rapid test for the disease and a vaccine. Extra measures are expected to be announced in the budget statement to be delivered by Sunak on Wednesday (March 11).