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In his first Budget, the freshly-appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP, announced that the NHS will get “whatever it needs” to get through the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The words were reminiscent of the European Central Bank (ECB) president, Mario Draghi’s, famous speech in 2012, which sought to save the Euro during the Greek debt crisis by promising to do “whatever it takes” to do so. While it is widely thought that this commitment was successful in achieving its desired aim, it is yet to be seen if the apparently infinite resource promised by Sunak for the NHS (quoted by him to be £5 billion) will be able to cope effectively with the anticipated surge in demand for health services caused by the novel coronavirus. 

Outside of COVID-19-specific health funding, a further £6 billion was pledged to the NHS, on top of the £34 billion over five years promised in the previous Budget. This boost is intended to follow through on the much-debated election promises of 50,000 more nurses, 50 million more GP surgery appointments and 40 (FORTY) new hospitals – commitments which will naturally be taken with a generous helping of salt. 

The life sciences industry received a boost through £200 million provided to the British Business Bank to implement the Life Sciences Investment Programme. This is expected to enable £600 million of investment which aims to “create high-quality jobs and help UK patients benefit from more ground-breaking treatments and care.” The precise avenues by which this funding will achieve these aims is unclear, however. In addition to this, the life sciences sector will benefit, alongside a number of other technological sectors, from plans to increase public R&D investment to £22 billion per year by 2024-25.

It is clear that the Chancellor is taking the economic and public health threat of novel coronavirus seriously, with a £30 billion response package promised to protect all sectors. However, the disease was not allowed to dominate the Budget entirely. From abolishing business rates for companies in England to boosting infrastructure spending across the country – Sunak is aiming to fulfil the Tories’ commitment of ‘levelling up’ the nation.

With the extent of the economic damage inflicted by COVID-19 yet to be made plain, a great deal of uncertainty around the Government’s ability to meet these Budget promises remains, however. The next few months is likely to be crucial in providing more clarity in this regard.

By Chris Melson


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