The government is being called on to prioritise investment in the health and social care workforce in its emergency budget, due at the end of this week.
The new chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to outline the government’s financial plans for the winter in an emergency “mini-budget” on Friday 23 September.
It is anticipated that this budget will include up to £30bn in tax cuts, and it is unclear what this may mean for spending on health and social care.
The NHS Confederation has called for the government to take this opportunity to take “urgently needed” action and avoid a winter health service emergency by investing in five key areas: inflation, social care, workforce, capital and energy costs.
It has called for investment in the health and social care workforce to be made a priority to ensure there are adequate numbers of NHS and social care staff to cope with the increased care needs of the winter season, and to continue clearing the care backlog caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
NHS figures released earlier this month showed record registered nurse vacancies in the NHS in England of almost 47,000. This was up 21% on the year before.
In a letter to new secretary of state for health and social care Thérèse Coffey, the NHS confederation last week warned that the extent of current staff shortages risked leaving the NHS with “no capacity” in the system to absorb the shocks of winter pressures including flu and Covid-19.
Meanwhile, a government scheme announced today to assist businesses and public bodies, including hospitals, with energy costs this winter has been welcomed by trust leaders.
The Energy Bill Relief Scheme (EBRS) will provide a discount on gas and electricity prices for all businesses as well as the voluntary and public sectors, including schools and hospitals.
The scheme, which is the equivalent to the Energy Price Guarantee for household energy bills, will apply to fixed contracts agreed on or after April 1 2022, and to some variable and flexible tariffs and contracts.
The EBRS discount will apply to energy usage for a six-month period from 1 October this year. It will be available across England, Scotland and Wales, and a similar scheme is set to be introduced in Northern Ireland.
Interim deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Miriam Deakin said: “Trust leaders will welcome today’s announcement that they and other public service providers will receive the same help as businesses with soaring energy costs.
“Public sector bodies would have faced excessive price hikes without this support.
“Increased gas and electricity costs threatened to be a tipping point for trusts which have already been hit hard by inflation.”
However, Ms Deakin warned that putting a six-month limit on the government’s financial support to cover energy costs risked leaving hospitals facing a “massive hike” in bills next spring.
She added: “Trust leaders will be watching closely further government announcements expected this week which could have an impact on NHS budgets and overstretched services as we head into what promises to be a very busy winter.”
The UK Treasury was approached for comment.