Beyond the critical coronavirus response, the Chancellor’s 2021 Budget announcement did not centre on health and care services or resolve the longer-term questions about the health and care financial framework – these updates will likely happen in the Spending Review later this year. The focus was instead on the big picture issues of protecting jobs and livelihoods as the UK emerges from the pandemic and the Government Builds Back Better.
These economic and societal issues have a much broader impact on the mental and physical health of the population, beyond the healthcare services directly provided by the NHS. The Chancellor’s announcements on the extension of the furlough scheme and the increases to Universal Credit and national minimum wage are intended to reach the people hit hardest by the pandemic, influencing the social determinants of health. But there is a mountain to climb – the pandemic has brought health inequalities into sharp focus and the inequalities gap has never been wider.
In specific Budget updates for the healthcare sector:
- The COVID vaccination rollout will receive an extra £1.65 billion to help reach its target of offering a first dose of the vaccine to every adult by 31 July. Over 20 million people in the UK have now received their first dose.
- £28 million has been committed to increase the UK’s capacity for vaccine testing and £22 million for a study to test the effectiveness of combinations of different COVID-19 vaccines and of giving a third dose of vaccine.
- The Chancellor also committed an additional £5 million funding towards the creation of a ‘library’ of vaccines that will work against COVID-19 variants.
- In Research & Development, the Chancellor announced a review of R&D tax reliefs to ensure the UK remains a competitive location for cutting-edge research post-Brexit and COVID – something which has been strongly called for by pharma industry leaders.
- The Budget also saw an announcement of visa reforms aimed at attracting talent from the science, research and tech sectors.
While we may have to wait until the Spending Review later in the year to hear more about the health and care financial framework, it’s clear that the government’s primary focus is, understandably, COVID. However, the pandemic has highlighted more than ever the health inequalities that exist in our society and the widening gap that will need to be bridged.