Rishi Sunak: NHS will get whatever it needs to deal with coronavirus

The Treasury will give the NHS “whatever it needs” to tackle the Coronavirus crisis, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has said.

Before this week’s budget, Sunak did not say how much in additional resources the NHS would get, but indicated the government was potentially willing to write a blank cheque to help the health service cope with a pandemic.

His assurance comes after warnings from doctors and other medical professionals that the NHS is already under too much pressure to be able to deal with a serious worsening of the coronavirus outbreak.

Q&A

How can I protect myself from the coronavirus outbreak?

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided it is used correctly.

Justin McCurry

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There are worries about whether enough beds for critically ill patients will be available, about staff falling ill and others having to take time off to care for children if schools across the country close down.

However, Sunak insisted the resources would be there when needed. He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We stand ready to give the NHS whatever it needs.”

Over the weekend, the government said people could be asked to volunteer in the NHS at the peak of the outbreak.

Sunak also said he would be outlining further measures at the budget to help businesses hit by short-term financing problems as a result of trade slowing down during the peak.

“You’re right this could be a challenging period for businesses but it will be an impact for a temporary period of time,” he said. The government would be looking at helping businesses find bridging financing rather than providing bailouts, Sunak added.

Elsewhere in the interview, he refused to say whether he would change the fiscal rules promised in the Conservative manifesto to balance the books on day-to-day spending by the middle of the parliament.

Sunak also said the government would not extend the Brexit transition period beyond December, regardless of the effects of coronavirus on the economy.

Later on Sky, the Scottish first minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, said it was “pretty much inevitable that we will need additional resources” in the NHS to cope with coronavirus.

She also called for a “relaxation of universal credit rules” to ensure people stayed in isolation if they had suspected coronavirus rather than trying to make appointments at job centres.

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