Rishi Sunak will pledge to invest £6bn in tackling NHS waiting lists across England and improving the use of digital technology in hospitals in the budget this week.
The chancellor is set to announce £5.9bn in Wednesday’s statement to reduce the backlog of non-emergency tests and procedures, with support for at least 100 ‘one-stop-shop’ community diagnostic centres to assist those waiting for clinical tests such as MRIs, ultrasounds and CT scans.
Efficiency and security in the frontline NHS will also be enhanced by a £2.1bn investment to modernise digital technology and free up valuable NHS staff time, the Treasury says.
Millions of patients waiting for diagnostic tests and non-emergency operations will benefit from the £6bn injection, Mr Sunak will tell MPs.
It comes as it was revealed that nearly six million people in England are waiting to start routine hospital treatment – a record high.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned that “business as usual won’t be enough”.
The latest NHS England figures, published earlier this month, show that a total of 5.7 million people were waiting to start routine hospital treatment at the end of August – the highest figure since records began in August 2007.
Of those, some 9,754 people had been waiting more than two years to begin hospital treatment, more than three times the 2,722 people who were waiting longer than two years in April.
Among them are people awaiting hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery.
NHS England has told hospitals to eliminate all waits of more than two years by March 2022.
On Wednesday, Mr Sunak will set out funding that will support the aim of delivering around 30% more elective activity by 2024-25 compared to pre-pandemic levels.
A total of £2.3bn of the funding package will be specifically used to transform diagnostic centres across England, with the 100 ‘one-stop-shop’ units in addition to the 44 already announced.
The centres will transform the screening process for millions of patients and make it easier for them to get the tests and scan they need closer to home, the Treasury says.
It is hoped that this, in turn, will help to catch cancer and other life-threatening conditions as quickly as possible – ultimately with the aim of saving more lives.
The Treasury is expecting the centres to help clear most of the existing testing backlog caused by the pandemic by the end of the Parliament.
The chancellor says the investment is “game-changing”.
“We are committed to getting health services back on track and ensuring no one is left waiting for vital tests or treatment,” Mr Sunak said.
“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.”
Mr Javid said the government will “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,” he said.
“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 reduce the treatment backlog is also expected to include £1.5bn for increased bed capacity, equipment and new surgical hubs to tackle waiting times for elective surgery.
Each hub will be equipped with four to five surgical theatres and the sum is on top of the £500m capital investment already pledged by the government for 2021-22 to help restore elective services.
As part of the £2.1bn ringfenced for new technology, improved IT systems will help NHS staff have access to the fastest broadband and digital records.
Mr Sunak has promised to do “whatever it takes” to support families with the cost of living, as he pre-empts his address in the House of Commons this week.
Among his promises which have already been announced are:
• £1.4bn to encourage foreign investment into UK businesses and attract overseas talent
• £700m to be spent mainly on the new post-Brexit borders and immigration system, as well as a new maritime patrol fleet
• £435m for victims services, crime prevention and the Crown Prosecution Service
• £560m for adult maths coaching to help increase numeracy
• A six-month extension to the COVID recovery loan scheme to June 2022
The budget will be delivered after PMQs on Wednesday.