UK to invest extra 200 million pounds in National Health Service over winter

FILE PHOTO: Striking NHS healthcare staff protest in London

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government said on Thursday it would invest 200 million pounds ($250 million) of extra funding in the National Health Service (NHS) to help boost its resilience during the busy winter months.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made cutting NHS patient waiting lists one of his five top priorities ahead of a national election expected next year. More than 7.5 million people in England are on a waiting list for hospital treatment.

"Winter is the most challenging time for the health service," Sunak said in a statement. "This extra 200 million pounds will bolster the health service during its busiest period, while protecting elective care so we can keep cutting waiting lists."

In addition, the government said it would invest 40 million pounds to improve social care capacity and improve discharge from hospital.

The 75-year-old state-run NHS has been struggling to keep up with patient demands, an increasingly elderly and sickly population, and the cost of new medicines and treatments. A business plan published on Tuesday by NHS England, the largest part of the NHS, put its budget for 2023/24 at 168.8 billion pounds.

The COVID-19 pandemic strained an already creaking system, and services have been further disrupted over the last year by a series of strikes over pay by doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers.

The NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, welcomed the funding but said it risked being absorbed by the cost of ongoing industrial action which it estimated had already cost around 1 billion pounds.

Junior and senior doctors are due to take joint strike action for the first time later this month, and again in October.

"There remain serious challenges to be resolved, the most pressing of which is industrial action ... We need to see this situation settled as it has already gone too far," said NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor.

($1 = 0.7999 pounds)

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, Editing by William Maclean)