Health bodies accuse Chancellor Rishi Sunak of 'completely abandoning'

Health bodies accuse Chancellor Rishi Sunak of ‘completely abandoning’ social care after unveiling a £30billion package to tackle coronavirus

  • Mr Sunak announced a massive £30billion package to tackle coronavirus today
  • Was accused of ignoring struggling social care sector by charities and doctors
  • Critics warned most vulnerable in our society ‘would continue to bear the brunt’

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was today accused of ‘completely abandoning social care’ after unveiling a coronavirus-dominated Budget that made no mention of the struggling sector.

Mr Sunak announced a massive £30billion package to stop the virus plunging Britain into Italy-style chaos, which included a £5billion emergency fund for the NHS . 

But the new chancellor faced fierce backlash for ‘ignoring’ Britain’s care services, which have been stretched to breaking point after a decade of austerity and cuts. 

Britain’s top doctors described it as a ‘missed opportunity’ to overhaul the sector, while leading charities warned the ‘most vulnerable in our society would continue to bear the brunt’. 

Others claimed the £5billion injection into the NHS would not miraculously fix a crippling shortage of beds or fill tens of thousands of vacant nursing posts. 

The Government has said it plans to publish its plan for social care by the end of the year, but Mr Sunak did not mention the crisis in his address to the Commons. 

Unveiling his crucial first Budget, the Chancellor insisted his plans will ensure the UK is ‘one of the best placed economies in the world’ to cope with the impact of the disease

Mr Sunak was flanked by the PM and congratulated by colleagues after he finished the statement in the Commons today

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians described the budget as a ‘missed opportunity’

Lynda Thomas (right), CEO at Macmillan Cancer Support, suggested the £5billion emergency coronavirus pot would not go far enough

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians said: ‘Today’s Budget offered an opportunity to create a healthier and happier nation by giving social care and public health the urgent investment they need.

‘But this was an missed opportunity. Doctors are working incredibly hard under enormous pressure but their situation will not improve until the whole system – health, social care and public health – gets the funding it needs.’

Sally Copley, director of policy at the charity Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘The money provided for NHS and local authorities to deal with Coronavirus is good news.

‘[But] the Government needs to say how it’s going to be used to protect vulnerable people with dementia.

A poll of more than 400 GPs found 67 per cent did not feel their surgery was prepared to deal with the escalating crisis.

More than half (53 per cent) said they had not been given proper guidance and information about the virus and how to deal with patients who may have it.

Just one in five said their practice had the equipment – including protective masks and clothes – needed to cope with an outbreak.

The poll was conducted by British medical site GP Online.

Respondents said they were worried a surge in cases could push their already-stretched practices over the edge, particularly if doctors and nurses have to stay at home and self-isolate. 

‘The fact that the chancellor appears to have completely ignored social care is astonishing, and crushing for people with dementia. 

‘Every day we hear of people with dementia trapped in unacceptable conditions, of families struggling to cover the astronomical cost of dementia care. Coronavirus risks making this crisis into a catastrophe.

‘There is no excuse. If we do not fix our broken social care system, the most vulnerable in our society will continue to bear the brunt.’

Although the chancellor did not mention social care funding in his speech to MPs, it was included as a footnote in the Budget document.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also written a round-robin letter to MPs and peers last week asking for suggestions about how to improve the sector.  

‘Ahead of those discussions [with parliamentarians] the Government will invest £1bn of additional funding for social care next year, as announced at Spending Round 2019,’ the Budget says.

‘The Budget confirms that this additional funding will continue for every year of the current Parliament to continue to stabilise the system.’ 

But Mr Sunak faced cross-party backlash for the omission in his address to the Commons. 

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the lack of extra funding for social care was a ‘glaring’ hole in Mr Sunak’s Budget.  

Despite praising a ‘great first outing’ for the Chancellor, Mr Hunt added: ‘Hospitals will continue to fill up & winter crises will be annual until we fix this issue, which – I fully accept – wasn’t solved when I was in office.’ 

He added: ‘We desperately need a social care long-term plan to go alongside the NHS plan.’ 

Outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘Social care is in crisis. There is an £8billion funding gap since 2010.

‘Instead of the government presenting a social care plan which the part-time Prime Minister told us was ready long ago, they are asking the rest of us for ideas.’

Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: ‘Plenty to be pleased about in budget, missing Social Care is so bad. 

‘Truth is that they know it has to be paid for but they cannot bear to be honest about it. 

‘Imagine you had a majority of 80, you could do what you wanted and you didn’t do social care its honestly baffling to me.’ 

Mr Sunak vowed he ‘will go further if necessary’ if the £5billion coronavirus response pot is not enough to cope with the crisis.

But Professor John Appleby, an economist at Nuffield Trust, said: ‘…the NHS starts in a deep hole after a decade of underfunding and understaffing. 

‘With tens of thousands of nursing posts already vacant and beds full to capacity, what can the service usefully spend this money on? 

‘The decision to keep the extra money in the Treasury for now may also mean NHS managers hold back, out of fear that they won’t get what they spend refunded.

‘The failure to announce any real action to overhaul social care is the elephant in the room.’ 

Lynda Thomas, CEO at Macmillan Cancer Support, added: ‘After months of witnessing the intolerable pressures on our NHS workforce and watching people living with cancer suffer the consequences, the additional £5billion of NHS funding announced, and the extra 50,000 nurses promised, goes some way to recognise these challenges.

Jeremy Corbyn (pictured right) sat stony-faced through the Budget but shadow chancellor John McDonnell did raise a smile. Mr Corbyn blasted the omission of social care 

Budget 2020: At a glance

Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers his first Budget in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak. Here are the key points:

  • On coronavirus he says the Government is doing ‘everything it can’ to keep the UK ‘healthy and financially secure’.
  • But the public must expect ‘temporary disruption to the economy’ and ‘for a period, it’s going to be tough, but I am confident that our economic performance will recover’.
  • What the NHS needs to fight coronavirus ‘it will get’. 
  • Statutory sick pay for all those self-isolating, with sick notes soon available via 111 even if you have no symptoms.
  • Those on benefits will be  able to claim from day one instead of day eight.
  • £500million hardship fund for local councils.
  • Sick pay paid out  to staff by firms with fewer than 250 employers for 14 days will be refunded by the Government.   
  • A ‘temporary coronavirus business interruption loan scheme’ introduced for banks to offer loans of up to £1.2 million to support small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Business rates scrapped for this year for thousands of firms with a rateable value below £51,000.
  • 700,000 firms able to claim £3,000 cash grants, a total of £2billion.
  • Further measures in the Budget provided an additional ‘fiscal loosening’ of £18 billion to support the economy this year, taking the total fiscal stimulus to £30 billion. 
  • Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) pre-coronavirus growth forcecast 1.1% this year, then 1.8%, 1.5%, 1.3% and 1.4% in next four years.
  • The National Insurance threshold will increase from £8,632 to £9,500.
  • A planned increase in spirits duty will be cancelled and duties for beer, cider and wine drinkers will be frozen as well.
  • A new ‘plastics packaging tax’ charging manufactures and importers £200 per tonne on packaging made of less than 30% recycled plastic. 

 

‘However, the urgent action needs to go further than the increase in nurses promised. We eagerly await details of exactly how and when these nurses will be recruited and trained while maintaining frontline care. 

‘However, the priority is for Health Education England to get all the money required to deliver a long-term and comprehensive People Plan to grow and fund a cancer workforce that’s fit for patients now and in the future.’ 

Also included in the budget was a huge £2billion bailout that sees ministers footing the sick pay bill for up to two million small and medium sized businesses, covering the 14 days of a quarantine period.

Half of businesses will pay no rates for the next year to help them weather the storm – with pubs benefiting from a freeze in alcohol duties to step them going under while millions of people are having to self-isolate. Job seekers will no longer have to attend job centre to get benefits.

Mr Sunak said in total the announcements meant a £30billion ‘fiscal stimulus’, and would boost economic growth by 0.5 per cent over the next two years.

Despite a bewildering array of high-spending policies – which effectively unwind a decade of austerity – he stated that the government will still be on track to meet its borrowing and debt rules.

But the respected IFS think-tank pointed out that funding for public services is now expected to rise by 2.8 per cent on top of inflation. Director Paul Johnson said: ‘With investment spending rising even faster, something has to give.’

The government’s independent watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), said borrowing would be £125billion higher over the next five years as a result of the policies.

In a stirring message to the country on the coronavirus threat, Mr Sunak said: ‘We will get through this together. ‘The British people may be worried but they are not daunted.’

He added: ‘This virus is the key challenge facing our country today… it’s going to be tough but I’m confident that our economic performance will recover.’

The Budget comes the shadow of mounting global turmoil over coronavirus, with Italy effectively in lockdown and the risk that the situation could spiral in the rest of Europe. The Bank of England this morning slashed its key interest rate by half a per cent to 0.25 per cent.

The crisis was dramatically brought home to politicians overnight as health minister Nadine Dorries became the first MP to test positive, days after attending a reception at No10 with Boris Johnson.

Some are thought to have stayed away from the set-piece today amid fears of contagion in the packed chamber. However, the PM has insisted he does not need to be tested as he has no symptoms, and was not within two metres of his minister at the reception.

Despite tackling coronavirus being at the heart of the Budget, Mr Sunak also insisted the government has not abandoned its determination to ‘level up’ the country after Brexit.

In a flurry of spending commitments, Mr Sunak declared that millions of workers will get a tax cut, as the national insurance threshold will go up to £9,500 this year. After intense lobbying from Tory MPs, fuel duty will also be frozen for the tenth year running.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?

Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.

More than 4,000 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 110,000 have been infected. Here’s what we know so far:

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.

Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died. 

By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.

By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.  

By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.

By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths. 

A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths.

By February 25, around 80,000 people had been infected and some 2,700 had died. February 25 was the first day in the outbreak when fewer cases were diagnosed within China than in the rest of the world. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. 

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.

There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region. 

Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.

The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.

She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

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