Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

Government Phases Out COVID Funding as Hospital Admissions Rise

The considerable upcoming reduction in spending calls into question the Government’s ‘Living with COVID’ strategy

Photo: PA/Alamy

Newsletter offer

Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.

Ministers are phasing out most of the funding to tackle COVID-19 just at the point when hospital admissions from the virus are starting to rise again, according to figures from the United Kingdom Health and Security Agency.

These show an accelerating trend in COVID cases in the week before Christmas, with the number of hospital admissions rising to 3,203 from 2,622 the previous week and the number of new cases up to 7,164 from 5227 the previous week – a rise of 36%. The biggest rises have been in London and south-east England

The figures are still a fraction of the numbers when the pandemic was raging but do suggest an upward trend in the virus this winter.

The Government’s autumn COVID vaccination programme aimed at the elderly and vulnerable has been taken up by 68.8% of eligible people, showing that nearly a third have not had the vaccination.

The national online vaccination programme was closed by the Government in December though some local GPs and pharmacies can offer vaccinations to eligible people until 31 January.

Regular testing is not being conducted in hospital cancer and transplant wards which contain vulnerable immunocompromised patients.

Surveillance has been scaled back, and will be reduced further in the next financial year due to the change in funding.

Long COVID clinics are funded from the NHS budget and won’t be affected by this change and funding for vaccines will also remain separate to the core budget.

This financial year will be the last year ministers fund the UKHSA tackling COVID under a separate budget. Some £430 million was set aside until April. After that, the money will come from the UKHSA’s core budget that it receives from the Department of Health and Social Care. The UKHSA said it was in negotiations about this but it is expected to be a fraction of this year’s budget.

The NHS Whistleblowing Crisis

Tommy Greene and David Hencke report on a number of worrying NHS dismissal cases

The considerable upcoming reduction in spending calls into question the Government’s ‘Living with COVID’ strategy.

Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford and a former member of the Government’s vaccine taskforce, has warned of “an absolutely dramatic reversion to what existed before the pandemic” and that “our clinical research environment is actually much, much worse than it’s ever been in my living memory”.

Kate Bingham, who has been praised for her work leading the Government’s COVID vaccine taskforce, has also warned that the UK is failing to bring scientific and commercial expertise into the Government, and not pursuing the creation of bulk antibody-manufacturing capabilities in the UK. She has also questioned why the Novavax vaccine, which uses a protein subunit like many other vaccines, has not been made available in the UK.

The UKHSA said it is implementing the Living with COVID policy and that the UK has a sufficient supply of COVID-19 vaccines for anticipated booster campaigns this year, holding a contingency stock in the event that vaccination beyond these campaigns is required.

Altogether, 34.4 million vaccines were stored in warehouses at the end of October but some of these vaccines will expire in April. A Whitehall impact statement said in May 2022 that will be disposed of because “these doses have no feasible alternative use”. 

The UKHSA could not say how many doses will be destroyed.

It said it was committed to maintaining resilience against significant COVID-19 resurgence or new variants, and protecting the NHS from unsustainable pressure. This includes the ability to reintroduce vaccination (surge response) for the most vulnerable, if required. 

The Government also sold off a new £200 million research and manufacturing vaccine facility, before it was completed, in Oxfordshire to US pharmaceutical firm Catalent in April 2022. The centre was set up as a not-for-profit company with the aim of combining vaccine research and manufacturing in one place.

The new owners, which manufacture drugs worldwide including in China, said: “We continue to be excited about the strategic opportunities for the Harwell site and are looking at the best options available for biologics manufacturing at the site, including vaccines.”

This article was filed under
, , ,